Retailers comment on policies and procedures shaped by COVID-19.
This spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the country, provincial governments issued strict social distancing orders that forced companies to shut down or drastically alter the way they do business in an effort to “flatten the curve” and limit the spread of the disease. However, even at the height of stay-home orders and economic uncertainty, Canadian ag retailers and farmers carried on with the spring planting season without major setbacks.
Many of our customers and suppliers finally experienced the full digital capabilities of our facility that we have invested in over the past couple years but were not fully utilizing.
Chris Schuh, manager of Top Gro Agro Ltd. in Mallaig, AB., said his company made multiple adjustments to its operations to protect staff, customers, suppliers and families from the spread of COVID-19. While some of the changes may be done away with once things start getting back to normal, he says there are a few policies and procedures that the company may permanently keep.
“I don’t know that we are out of the woods yet regarding COVID-19 so it’s hard to comment on what will stick moving forward and what will not,” says Schuh. “Some of the adjustments were major, some were more minor. Some changes will be permanent, and some were an extreme standard set at the start of the pandemic that may or may not fade as government health officials loosen protocols and we all continue to learn more about the disease.”
Retailer Q & A
The CAAR Communicator reached out to several retailers, including Schuh, as well as manufacturers and suppliers to see if they would be keeping any of the new policies and procedures that they put in place for COVID-19.
Q: Have you made any adjustments to the way you work (due to COVID-19) that you plan to permanently incorporate into your operations going forward?
A: “It's too early to tell what could be permanently incorporated but we have seen some benefits with how we have been hosting and attending meetings as well as conducting some employee training. Employees and customers have adapted very well and continue to practice social distancing while staying aware of their surroundings, so this has been positive. We have seen a positive uptick in our secure online customer portal through richardsonpioneer.ca where customers have the ability to see their grain and crop input transactions in a very customer friendly and accessible way.” –Russ Reich, vice-president of crop inputs, Richardson Pioneer
A: “Would I incorporate anything permanently? No, absolutely not.” –Harlene Simmonds, owner, AgriTeam Services Inc.
A: “I believe most growers and perhaps some of our staff felt we went a little too far with our COVID-19 policies but most also understood the reasoning and the importance of our business staying healthy and open. I also believe a lot of good came out of the protocols including some increased efficiency. Many of our customers and suppliers finally experienced the full digital capabilities of our facility that we have invested in over the past couple years but were not fully utilizing. For example, farms that previously refused electronic load outs and invoices are now enjoying their convenience. We had fewer mistakes on our end because now many orders and farm directions for deliveries were texted in rather than relaying phone messages. There were also significantly fewer distractions inside the office as we were not allowing in any visitors.” –Chris Schuh, manager, Top Gro Agro Ltd.
A: “There are certainly a number of measures around hygiene, sanitizing and the like, that will be permanent fixtures going into the future. We have put in hand sanitizing stations and issued handwashing protocol notices and personal hand sanitizer for all staff. We will be checking with our customers about the possibility of keeping virtual sign-in to worksites (on a permanent basis), so that we can limit contact. The other reality is that a number of our employees are functioning reasonably well working from home and we could see more of that going into the future as a great work/life balancer.” –Craig Senchuk, president & CEO, Hi Tech Installations Ltd.
CAAR’S COVID-19 Response
On April 1, CAAR staff, along with the board of directors, hosted a webinar to provide details of CAAR’s response to the pandemic. The webinar included details of CAAR’s outreach and advocacy activities, including communications with federal and provincial governments that encouraged all jurisdictions to identify the agriculture supply chain as an essential service.
As well, CAAR created a COVID-19 support section on caar.org to provide useful and timely information to retailers. The section contains dozens of articles and resources to help retailers navigate some of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and is updated as more relevant information is released.
You can find CAAR’s COVID-19 resources, including a copy of the COVID-19 Activities & Response webinar, letters to government and a Q & A, at caar.org/resources/agri-retailer-support.
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