CPS Vernalis: Delivering Safety

CPS Vernalis, CA

Everythying is so neat and tidy at the Vernalis, CA, branch of Crop Production Services (CPS) that the mailboxes stick out like mushrooms sprouting from a meticulously manicured lawn. There are about a half-dozen of the mailboxes sprinkled in and around the tank farm, a place, safe to say, no one receives mail.

But when Fred Strauss, the veteran manager of the branch, which is located about 70 miles east of San Francisco, explains the reasoning behind the mailboxes, they make perfect sense. As usual, when it comes to the facility’s design and operations, it all comes back to safety.

“A contractor who comes here must follow the rules,” says Strauss, “and rule number one is you must have goggles and gloves.”

Those that don’t have no excuse as each of the mailboxes contains a pair of gloves and a pair of goggles. “They’re waterproof, easy to see, and easy to open,” says Strauss, as his longtime assistant manager, Tom Lopez, shows off the contents. Mystery solved.

Strauss and Lopez go way back together. In fact, Lopez’s dad, Tom Lopez Sr., worked for Strauss at the Vernalis branch right up to retirement. Strauss, who assumed the helm of the 44-year-old facility in 1987, hired Tom Lopez just six months later. Many of the 23 employees — seven of whom are licensed California Pest Control Advisers, including Strauss and Lopez — have been working at the branch for many years.

There’s a palpable sense of teamwork at CPS Vernalis, and it’s something that Strauss has worked hard to build and clearly takes pride in. That includes the staff, especially the office staff, as Fred’s wife, Krys, is office manager. That sense of teamwork comes across as Fred is showing off their shop, where they came up with their own system for securing dry fertilizer loads on trucks.

Previously, all the tenders were covered with tarpaulins and secured with bungee cords. One day Strauss saw one of his oldest drivers climbing up on top of the load to attach the bungee cord. There’s got to be a better way, he thought. He came up with a roller system so the tarpaulin can be rolled out over the load from the ground.

“Just one back injury saved — it’s worth it. Besides, I jump in the trucks and make deliveries too,” he says with a grin. “Everyone here does, you do what you have to do to serve the customer.”

Community Spirit

While serving the customer is paramount, CPS Vernalis also believes in serving the community. As a group, the employees support the Modesto Gospel Mission, a nondenominational homeless shelter. In the two years since adopting the shelter, they have delivered literally over a ton of food and sundry items. Their customers participate as well, as some of the food comes in the form of donations from customers at the annual barbecue feast CPS Vernalis holds for their customers.

CPS Vernalis also give back to the community through going above and beyond in their attention to safety and the environment. To wit:

  • The tank farm includes a 40,000-gallon tank that holds water, so should it be necessary, they have quick and easy access. It was no small expense, and it wasn’t required by the Fire Department or any other agency, they just thought it was the right thing to do. “We have a well, too,” explains Strauss, “but we put in the tank for peace of mind.”
  • They don’t mix or even rinse out chemicals on site. They do allow customers to use CPS equipment to apply chemicals, but the customers must clean the equipment on their own property. To help ensure it is properly cleaned, Strauss says they do provide the cleaning agent.
  • Trucks containing material must be parked within the tank farm, which is completely contained. “If there’s a spill we can collect it,” says Strauss. “We’ve had truckers come in and the fitting on their truck breaks, and we suck every drop of it up.”
  • To ensure they can recover every drop, they are constantly experimenting with and applying asphalt sealers, keeping up on the state-of-the-art. That extends to the warehouse, where they recently completely sealed the floor. The warehouse too is completely contained, featuring a bridge into the office.
  • They take care of rodents — “when you have seed, you have mice,” Strauss says with a shrug — without the use of chemicals. It’s not that they have anything against the use of rodenticides, they just don’t need them. A couple of feral cats wandered into the warehouse one day, so Strauss took them to the pound, had them neutered, and put them (happily) to work.

Strauss, who once served as president of the California Association of Pest Control Advisers, helped start CAPCA’s “Plant Doctor” program. It’s a simple premise: PCAs go to schools and explain to kids that just like when the kids get sick, they see a doctor, growers see PCAs when their crops get sick. “We’re all doing things like this,” he says modestly, “but (crop consultants) don’t get credit for it because they don’t toot their own horns.

Note: Crop Production Services (CPS) in Vernalis, CA, is a 2012 regional Environmental Respect Award winner. For more information on this program, which is sponsored by DuPont, click here.

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