Unprecedented. Unpredictable. Uncharted territory. Fluid situation. Those are just some of the terms being used to describe the coronavirus and its impact on the current state of the world. Closer to home, U.S. ag retailers are trying to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis, while simultaneously ramping up operations ahead of #plant20.
Nutrien Ag Solutions is advising its grower-customers to take advantage of the digital tools that are available to them. "As our country responds to the threat of COVID-19, we know that many of you, our growers, are heading out to the field," said Sol Goldfarb, Head of Digital Strategy, on Facebook on March 19. "To help you, we have created a set of digital tools in our Nutrien Ag Solutions customer portal. These tools will help you collaborate effectively with your local Nutrien Ag Solutions branch team." From the portal, customers can order crop inputs, manage invoices and statements, access ag-focused weather forecasts, and more. Customers can sign up for the Customer Portal at my.NutrienAgSolutions.com or download the app from iTunes.
On March 18, GROWMARK issued a distribution center and facility update:
"Currently, all GROWMARK crop nutrient, crop protection, seed, energy, and equipment facilities are operating with full staff and on normal operating hours. GROWMARK has instituted proactive steps to ensure the continued operation of our facilities during this critical time including the implementation of personal hygiene precautions at our terminals such as the addition of driver protocols to limit personal contact with facility employees, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices, limiting face-to-face interaction, and implementing personal distancing protocols."
CHS President and CEO Jay Debertin sent the following message to owners and customers on March 16:
"The impact of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 is evolving rapidly. We want to reassure you that the entire CHS team is taking steps to protect the health and safety of our employees, our owners and customers, and the communities we serve. We are adjusting workflows as needed to ensure we can continue to provide the products and services you need. Our Agronomy, Energy, Global Grain Marketing, Processing, and Food Ingredients and retail operations will continue to refine their plans to ensure we can maintain operations to support your business."
To ensure the ongoing protection of its customers and employees, The J.R. Simplot Co. has implemented travel and visitation restrictions for its employees, visitors, and industry partners. This includes canceling international business and domestic commercial travel. "The J.R. Simplot Company’s top priority is the health and safety of our employees, customers, and communities where we work," according to a company statement on March 18.
To handle the ongoing impact of this situation and continue to meet customer needs, Simplot has deployed a cross-functional team responsible for ensuring its business continuity protocols address best practices related to COVID-19. This includes building and revising action plans and communications to meet frequently changing needs, and planning for future scenarios.
Southern States Cooperative has taken a number of preventive measures to protect customers and employees, including: frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces; asking employees to stay home if they are sick; postponing or canceling store events that bring customers together; and canceling non-essential business travel. "This situation continues to evolve and we will monitor it closely," said President and CEO Jeff Stroburg. "It is our intention that our stores remain open to serve our members and our community during this busy spring season. However, with the rapidly evolving situation, things are changing quickly. You can find contact information for your nearest store on southernstates.com."
Delivery of bulk products like feed and fertilizer and other services are still available at Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. The Co-Op says its employees are taking preventive actions, including washing hands often, disinfecting frequently touched objects, and carrying hand sanitizer. Enhanced cleaning is being done at the stores throughout the day, said CEO Bart Krisle on March 19. Heavy traffic areas including sales counters, door handles, and restrooms are receiving additional attention and being carefully sanitized. "We understand Co-op plays a critical role in your operations, and we are committed to continuing to provide for your needs," Krisle said. "We are encouraging our teams to be responsible."
Effective March 19, MFA Inc. implemented the following precautionary measures to help mitigate the spread of the virus to its employees and customers:
- Face-to-face contact. Focus will be to minimize or stop face-to-face contact with customers and vendors.
- Staff availability. MFA will continue conducting business out of its retail locations, but is asking staff to separate duties as much as possible and not gather in close proximity for meetings.
- Visitors. MFA is restricting all non-essential visits to its offices and facilities.
"Please rest assured we are doing all we can to continue to effectively service your needs," said Senior VP of Agri Services Craig Childs. "We will continue to communicate with you and make changes to our operating procedures as things evolve."
As of March 16, GreenPoint AG has encouraged all employees who can work from home to do so in order to comply with social distancing recommendations. The Memphis, TN-based dealer has also eliminated non-essential travel, limited visitors to its offices, and moved in-person meetings to virtual formats.
"We are confident these measures will help to ensure the health and safety of our team and the communities we serve," said Director of Operations Kent McPherson. "However, rest assured our employees are working at full capacity and have the tools and resources to support our valued customers from any of our locations. " The company is finishing development on a digital option for researching product information and ordering products online.
As of March 19, Agtegra Cooperative continues to operate its facilities for delivery of products and services, while at the same time taking appropriate steps to protect its employees. Changes to help limit the spread of COVID-19 include:
- The Aberdeen, Ipswich, Bath, and Huron administration offices have locked all public entry access points during business hours.
- Customers who are delivering grain or picking up feed, agronomy, or other products, should limit their time and interaction in the offices.
- Employees are working from home or remotely if they can.
- In-person meetings have been cancelled but we are communicating via videoconferencing, phone calls, or emails.
- Work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to keep its employees and customers safe and healthy and to not overwhelm the local and regional healthcare network.
- Adhere to CVA’s Mission, Vision and Core Values – more specifically to continue to serve customers and deliver value to their operations.
"We have established an internal response team to monitor the situation and determine responses and practices as needed," said President and CEO Carl Dickinson. "Examples of these practices include frequent cleaning of offices and heavily trafficked areas, restricted travel by employees between CVA locations, and use of remote meeting platforms for necessary meetings."
The Equity has asked its customers to follow several precautions, including:
- Plan ahead: For time-sensitive needs for any of its products or services, please reach out by phone or text to schedule in advance.
- Communicate: If you are coming to an Equity location or facility to load products, please communicate in advance and if possible, stay in your vehicle so we can load while maintaining the social distancing now being practiced.
- Use My Farm Records: This customer portal is available to make account payments and eliminates the need to mail or drop off a payment, thus reducing the possibility of transmission.
"From a Spring planting season perspective, at this time, The Equity is well positioned to meet the needs of our customers," said CEO Bruce Vernon. "Supplies for the most part are in place and we are staging them at our locations for your consumption. As conditions allow, we intend to resume full staff levels to meet your demands for goods and services. Baring any unforeseen logistical constraints outside of our control, we are committed to achieving our shared objectives."
California-based Grow West sent a letter to its customers on March 20. Here's part of that message:
"We are diligently working to continue to serve you and your needs during this unprecedented time. . . . We appreciate that the governor has designated agriculture as an essential service, particularly in light of the new 'Stay at Home' order. While we are having to implement new protocols, we are still open and will continue to serve you as always."
The company said that each of its locations is establishing best management practices while following CDC guidelines to protect its employees and customers. At this time, Grow West is requesting customers to call ahead with orders so it can have them ready for pick up.
- Sanitation – AFS will do its best to ensure public areas are clean and sanitary for both employees and customers at all company-owned locations.
- Seed Department – There are no current seed supply issues with AFS due to COVID-19. Currently 95% of booked seed is in its possession and what is not shipped yet is in the process of being prepared.
- Chemical Department – There are no current chemical supply issues with AFS as related to the Coronavirus. The retailer has stocked what has been prepaid and has taken a position on all brands for in-season needs.
- Plant Nutrition Department – The Plant Nutrition department has its current bookings in stock for customers with the exclusion of all of the 32%. There is enough on hand to satisfy customer needs through the planting season.
- Product Delivery – AFS will work with customer in whatever way necessary to accommodate delivery. Warehouse staff and truck drivers will keep a safe distance from while getting products to customers in a timely fashion.
- Social Gatherings – Any upcoming grower meetings and breakfasts are hereby canceled until further notice.
“Unlike many businesses, it’s simply not an option to shutdown agriculture,” said Tennessee Farmers Cooperative CEO Bart Krisle in a message to customers on March 19. “Farmers have animals to feed and crops to plant, and these activities require a reliable source of quality products and dependable services on a timely basis. Our world depends on the products our farmers produce.”
Some companies are further along than others in responding to COVID-19, as our recent poll would suggest. When asked if they have changed any policies or procedures so far, 32% of retailers said “Not yet, waiting for more information.”
That poll was taken on March 16. Since then, there have been shining examples of retailers establishing transparent communication with messages to their employees, customers, and industry partners regarding their response to the coronavirus. View the slideshow above to learn how some CropLife 100 companies have taken a proactive approach during the pandemic.
The Agricultural Retailers Association has also published a Resources page for its members with helpful links that will prepare them for COVID-19 and protect their employees. If your company has taken measures to respond to coronavirus, please let us know in the comments section below or e-mail me at [email protected].