The high degree of automation within Fonterra’s processing plants has helped staff maintain social distancing during peak milk.
Fonterra is facing its second consecutive season where peak milk collection is affected by covid-19.
The co-operative is expecting to process 80 million litres a day over the next few months, while at the same time keeping its 12,000 staff nationwide safe from the virus.
Fonterra chief operating officer Fraser Whineray says the co-operative had been working through a lot of management and business continuity plans to deal with covid while ensuring it was able to process the volumes coming through the factory.
“They are dynamic and they change because the environment changes,” Whineray said.
In the North Island, for example, Fonterra’s plants had tighter rules than those in the South Island. Whineray says precautions have been brought in, regardless of where covid is in the community.
“It’s been a very significant focus for us with business continuity and I’m really pleased with the efforts that have gone into preparation,” he said.
The company has also put in place policies for what to do if a staff member in the factory tests positive for covid.
Those plans needed to be put in place very quickly so as not to interrupt the peak milk flow.
These included keeping workers on the different shifts separated and the factories high sanitation requirements mean these workers did not change into their coveralls at the same time.
“There are a lot of procedural elements at the front line, which requires a huge amount of effort from them because it’s not always comfortable wearing a mask for eight to 12 hours, depending on the shift length,” he said.
It was also less social, with workers kept separated at tables in break rooms and carpooling was no longer allowed.
The large amount of automation within processing plants helped enormously with maintaining social distancing. But in some areas, it was harder and the company had put in place measures to keep workers separated.
Each factory had to be looked at uniquely.
“In other instances, the entire product coming off a production line is automatically palletised by a robot and automatically put into a rack by another robot, in that case, there’s only a couple of people there and it’s easy to maintain social distancing,” he said.
Fonterra was maintaining its policy of encouraging vaccinations, but not making them compulsory for staff.
Whineray says they were also watching the Government’s policy on this to wait and see after it earlier announced vaccinations were to be compulsory for teachers and border workers.
The co-operative had done a lot of work to make getting vaccinations as easy as possible for its staff, with 17 locations set up throughout the country where staff could get vaccinated.
He says the Dairy Workers Union had been very supportive of that process.
“We have rolled out more than 7500 vaccines for our staff through that process,” he said.
Whether these precautions were a new normal for Fonterra, Whineray says it depended on the location. Its staff in the Philippines had not been to their offices for 600 days.
“I would really like next season to not have so much risk management around it, either because of the background vaccinations around it or the immunity of the population, because it will be the fourth season of covid,” he said.
If there were still high cases heading into next season, Fonterra would respond to that depending on the circumstances.
Production-wise, the August milk collection had been down but Whineray was pleased with recent volumes thanks to good rain and the recent higher temperatures.
More information on its production figures at its next Global Dairy Update.