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Cargill: Thinking outside the box

Jarrod Gillig
Courtesy photo.

Infrared screening, already used to inspect harvesting equipment in plants, is one of the tools Cargill is using to keep workers safe during the COVID-19 situation.

Temperature screening by hand wasn’t practical but infrared screening can identify workers with a high temperature and send them to a secondary screening area where workers meet one-on-one with in-plant nursing staff. This secondary screening process allows employees to learn about what actions they should take moving forward.

“Media has taken a lot of different directions on everything scary about COVID-19,” Jarrod Gillig said. “Really taking the time to say what can our employees do and what do they need to be thinking about — staying hydrated, staying quarantined, all of those things they can do away from work, too.”

Gillig, Cargill’s beef operations leader, said thinking outside the box was necessary to find solutions in an industry where workers are often elbow to elbow. Physical barriers, in addition to face shields and masks, adds protection and confidence for workers. Scattering break times and installing cubicle-like dividers in cafeteria spaces are among the many changes. Physical barriers on the production floor are installed with welded frames, something that he said could remain as additional protection as the threat eases. He said Cargill is looking ahead to the “new normal” and trying to make it as reasonable as possible to maintain a sustainable supply chain.

Communicating changes and information to Cargill’s diverse workforce has been made possible through staff translators when necessary and small group communication and education.

“We’re a people business, right,” he said. “Our greatest asset truly is our employees.”

Gillig said communication to workers about COVID-19 has been done in small groups of five to 10 people to review the procedures and educating about the importance of the processes in place.

“The true story that needs to be told is the one about all the work our employees are doing,” he said. “They’re on the front lines of what we’re doing and the work they’re doing is critical. Everyday they’re walking in there and they see all these changes and there’s so many questions they have.”

Cargill was praised by the Northeast Colorado Health Department for the processes and procedures in place to keep food and employees safe. In a press release the Public Health Director Trish McClain said Cargill has made employee health a priority for the 2,000 workers and have gone beyond the general guidance to employee safety.

He said local and state health departments and the CDC have been supportive and everyone involved seems to understand the criticality of the food supply chain, in addition to the importance of worker health and safety.

Coming from a cattle production background himself, Gillig doesn’t discount the importance of the flow of cattle to producers. Fort Morgan has gone from two shifts to one, reducing capacity from 4,400 to 2,300 head.

He said Cargill has been active in the cash trade of cattle and will continue as that is how the market is developed. As Cargill focuses on producers, Gillig said the entire system must be viable. Cattle purchased may be delayed a week, but he said commitments made will be honored. Cargill is also ready to potentially handle larger carcasses.

“It’s obviously a tough spot,” he said. “We would love to say we’ll process all the cattle and everything’s fine, but the reality is we’re going to slow down. We’ve got to figure out how our team is safe through this but we’ve also got to make sure that cattlemen and women out there everyday doing what we need for a supply chain, and what we need more broadly as a nation to get protein on our plates, we have to make sure it’s a viable system. I know it’s tough, I can’t say it’s not. Cargill will continue to do everything we can to bring cattle through our facilities.”

Cargill also operates fed beef facilities in Friona, Texas; Dodge City, Kan.; Skyler, Neb.; High River, Alberta; Guelph, Ontario; a fed cattle and cow facility in Wyalusing, Penn.; and a cow processing facility in Fresno, Calif.

The Hazelton, Penn., case-ready facility is back online as of April 20 and anticipated 50 percent capacity but is currently at 65 to 50 percent capacity, he said. The High River facility is currently online. The Fort Morgan plan is the only Cargill facility on single shift.

“We think about producers and the entire supply chain,” he said. “Cargill is extremely proud of the partners and producers we have. As we think of essential services and the work we do at the beef plants, I truly feel they’re part of that, too. We need to be thinking like that, it’s the entire beef supply chain. Whether it’s the safety of our employees, making sure we keep food on the shelves there at the grocery stores, and the cattle coming from our producers and into our facilities. That entire food supply chain is so critical.” ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 768-0024.


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