What’s holding dairy back these days?
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Employees.

Those employees are needed both on the farm and in processing plants.

“I’ve been in the industry for 46 years. I haven’t seen this kind of disruption that I’ve seen in the past two years,” shared Alan Bernon, who serves as president and CEO of DFA Dairy Brands.

“We are looking for 900 additional employees to join our ranks,” continued Bernon. Those 900 potential employees that Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is trying to recruit are just for job openings in its processing plants. The number jumps to 1,500 job openings across the co-op.

Open positions beyond processing

“Budgets were a challenge to develop this year,” Rick Smith candidly shared with those gathered at the 24th annual meeting of the nation’s largest dairy cooperative. “Supply chains are so disrupted these days. Some new equipment has a two-year lead time,” continued DFA’s longest serving CEO.

“Disrupted supply chains and COVID-19 have led to 1,500 open positions at DFA,” said Smith. “That’s 10% of our workforce,” he went on to say of the dairy co-op that ranks as the world’s largest milk supplier.

The co-op’s job openings can be found throughout its supply chain.

“The supply chain, in our case, starts with the milk hauler,” shared Smith. “That’s not getting any easier. We have over 3,000 truckloads a day moving around the United States serving over 400 customer locations.”

A deeper perspective

As for how many positions might fit into the immediate hire category, Smith had this to say, “How many positions we have empty might be 1,000 to 1,200, because some of the positions that we want to fill are anticipatory. Managers know they are going to need more positions filled and so they are placing those positions in the hopper because we know we will have turnover,” continued Smith during a question-and-answer session at the co-op’s annual meeting.

“The 1,500 is a huge number. What happens when these positions are not filled?” he asked rhetorically.

“We end up with overtime. That creates stress and burns people out. There are people who are not necessarily looking for overtime. Then, some of those people may think, ‘It’s a good time to retire.’

“We also have had to cut down on shifts and run the plant less, which is not a good deal,” continued Smith of the staffing shortages. “That means we are less efficient, and some people (customers) are not getting potential product that they want when they want it,” said the CEO with 16 years of service to the cooperative.

Lost opportunities

“We talked about this as a board . . . a term that gets thrown around a lot is ‘shrink.’ If you are thinking of shrink, you may be thinking of getting milk into the milk truck or milk into the silos. It also gets used as a catch all for inefficiency,” shared Smith during an extended discussion on the co-op’s labor needs. “When you are hiring so many new people, there is a learning curve, and that learning curve does involve mistakes.”

Smith also shared that DFA isn’t alone in this situation. “Keep in mind, everyone else (other employers) has the same situation.”

As for potential solutions?

“We can turn to technology and equipment. However, there is a two-year lead time,” he shared when reflecting on alternative solutions.

“The labor situation, I don’t know if we can calculate the actual cost, but it’s real. We are not going to fix it overnight,” concluded Smith.

To explore the many career opportunities, go to https://www.dfamilk.com/careers/life-with-dfa.

At the midpoint of the year, the all-milk price forecast for 2022 is a whopping $26.20 per hundredweight (cwt), according to the June 2022 USDA/ERS Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.

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