Local grain companies have COVID restrictions in place to keep employees safe so facilities run smoothly for fall grain deliveries.
Commercial grain elevators are ready for this year’s harvest with modified health and safety practices in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our biggest changes were made in the spring and will be adapted for fall grain deliveries,” said Jennifer Down, Employee Relations Manager for FS Grain. Some of those changes include signs posted on the office doors promoting social distancing and requiring truckers entering the office to wear masks.
This seems to be the standard practice at most grain elevators. The majority of commercial facilities are safeguarding their staff by reducing contact with their farm customers.
FS grain in Sycamore has a plexi-glass barrier at the office counter and uses remote printers for generating weight scale tickets. Outside workers open and close hopper gates on semi-trucks to unload grain while drivers stay in the truck. “It’s our way of keeping distance and yet still providing services,” Down said.
Farmers will be hauling in grain to local elevators during the harvest season in October and November, weather permitting.
“I’m really concerned about our employees who work here seven days a week during the busy harvest season,” said Kent Hamm, General Manager for DeLong’s Waterman and Troxel facilities. “Should an employee or their family come down with the coronavirus it will require a quarantine for them and for our staff.”
“Our goal is to keep our staff healthy and not skip a beat with grain deliveries to our elevator,” said Hamm.
Some of their safety measures at their grain facilities include passing scale tickets through the window and limiting office access with farmers and truckers.
“Most farmers know the system since we’ve been doing it since March. Seasonal customers may not,” said Hamm.
Another safeguard in place with DeLong customers is having grain delivery information at their fingertips via a new app. The app allows farmers to access information such as weight of grain, grades, grain moisture and test weight. The app also provides grain contract information and loads allocated to storage.
While most local grain facilities have adjusted to COVID restrictions, methods vary between locations.
“Each facility is different,” explains Gerry Baker, Grain Department Manager of CHS Grain with local facilities in Elburn, Steward and Malta. “Many of the office staff are working from home in order to minimize the number of people in the offices, which will continue into fall.”
The standards in place for employees at grain facilities are using masks and hand sanitizer while practicing social distancing.
“For grain deliveries, some locations have ticket blowers or hand grabbers to hand tickets to drivers (to avoid contact). We are also mailing grain tickets,” said Baker.
Pre-harvest, CHS plans to send letters to farmers with new crop rates and to share COVID policies. “We are also communicating with farmers via emails, posting on bid pages, our website and Facebook,” Baker explained.
Illinois River closing impacts grain deliveries
Besides adapting to COVID-19, commercial elevators have had to make grain delivery adjustments based on the closure of the Illinois River. Portions of the Illinois River closed this summer for much needed lock and dam repairs.
“The closing of the Illinois River has impacted the grain business,” said Gerry Baker with CHS. “It’s caused challenges for fall having to make alternative plans for shipping.”
Before the river closed, grain elevators shipped some of their stored grain by truck to the Illinois River, which then was transported by barge for exports. Now elevators will be shipping grain in containers by truck and railroad and to processing markets.
“My group of elevators sell grain into container markets, ethanol markets, Chicago corn processing markets and some to the river market,” said Kent Hamm, with DeLong. “We normally export a large majority of our grain by shipping container.”
The Illinois River is expected to be closed through November, during grain harvest. Anticipating a big crop, elevators are geared up to store grain from local farms.
“This fall we are prepared to pile grain in bunkers,” said Baker. “We normally pile grain but with the river shut down we anticipate more piles than normal.”