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CONVEY17 covers top industry issues

By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media

“Do you have your organization set up to be successful with a completely different demographic?” asked CGB’s human resources leader in a keynote address to more than 150 grain and feed facility managers and employees in Kansas City, Mo., last week.

Mark Berry, vice president of human resources at CGB Enterprises Inc., noted during CONVEY17, the NGFA’s and Grain Journal Magazine’s operations and regulatory compliance conference, that 80 percent of baby boomers will retire over the next 10 years. Even now, most of the workforce consists of millennials, which Berry described as the most “ethnically and racially diverse generation that’s ever lived.”

The challenge of preparing the industry for a new generation of leaders and the need to recruit diverse talent – or risk losing out – is important particularly in the white- and male-dominated agricultural sector, Berry noted. However, he also indicated that workforce leaders are preoccupied with the “millennial” gap and suggested that all generations have similar goals and priorities for their work.

At CGB, voluntary turnover has been highest with millennials, but they indicated the primary reason they left as “lack of personal growth opportunities,” he said, which is the same reason given most frequently by members of every other generation.

CONVEY17 illustrated the changes and challenges every member of the industry – regardless of year of birth – will face in the years to come. Attendees heard from expert speakers on the direction of regulatory agencies under the Trump administration and participated in technical sessions on safety and operations efficiency.

Conference attendee Bruce Sutherland, president of Michigan Agricultural Commodities, commented following the conference that the issues covered at CONVEY17 “represent the key aspects of our industry that my managers need to know,” adding that “the CONVEY program gives you the most bang for your buck when it comes to the management and supervisory level in the grain and feed industry.”

(Photos from the conference are available here.)

OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials, including Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Galassi, were on hand to discuss agency procedures, as well as the upcoming alliance between the NGFA and OSHA, which he described as “the first step in a process where we work together to allow you to understand OSHA and us you.”

Kim Stille, the OSHA Region VII administrator, who also spoke at the NGFA’s Safety, Health and Environmental Quality Committee meeting after the conference, said the alliance provides an opportunity for the agency and the industry to learn from each other.

By focusing on significant hazards faced in five OSHA regions, Stille said the alliance will help OSHA “work in a collaborative fashion…with the industry to identify the hazards and communicate them to a wider audience [than we could with inspections].”

Eric Conn, chair of the national OSHA/workplace safety practice group at the Conn Maciel Carey LLP law firm in Washington, said the budget proposals presented by the Trump administration and Congress suggest that while OSHA’s overall budget may take a cut, the agency’s enforcement budget will remain at the same level. However, he said several policies regarding the agency’s enforcement likely will change.

Noting that the number of OSHA-enforced emphasis programs rose significantly during the Obama administration, Conn said he expects that several of them will retire under the current administration, meaning fewer “proactive inspections.” There also may be changes in the way OSHA calculates its penalties and fewer “shaming” press releases shining a spotlight on businesses that received OSHA citations.

Conn also said the industry should appreciate the pending alliance between the NGFA and OSHA.

“The grain industry has really been under a microscope from OSHA over the last, almost, 10 years,” Conn said. “It has been really enforcement-focused…Under the new administration, we expect a shift to more compliance assistance cooperative programs and a more positive relationship with the regulator.”

Finally, Conn issued a reminder that OSHA will continue to do its job “regardless of the man in the White House.” It’s the industry’s job to “make sure we’re implementing an effective safety program to send our workers home safe and sound every day,” he said.

FSMA:  Several speakers, including NGFA Senior Vice President of Feed Services Dave Fairfield, clarified some of the requirements under FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) during the day-and-a-half conference.

The Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CPMGs) implemented under FSMA establish 85 different requirements that are “broad in nature,” Fairfield explained. CGMP inspections began for some facilities in the first quarter of this year. Smaller businesses are expected to be in compliance by this September.

“These rules are the most complicated set of requirements I’ve seen for our industry,” Fairfield said.

The attention dedicated to FSMA over the course of CONVEY17 certainly illustrates the industry’s craving for information about the complex set of rules. During a breakout session, Greg Rowe, vice president of grain and processing operations at Perdue Agribusiness, Salisbury, Md., and chair of NGFA’s Safety, Health and Environmental Quality Committee, noted that in observing FDA’s inspections, he realizes “they’re still learning the grain industry…and how to apply more stringent feed requirements.”

Nick Friant, Cargill’s food safety, quality and regulatory leader for grain in North America, Minneapolis, Minn., and chair of NGFA’s Grain Grades and Weights Committee, noted: “A good resource and someplace to start,” is Fairfield’s guidance document published earlier this year. (NGFA members can access it free of charge here).

During his presentation, Fairfield also covered FDA’s new sanitary food transportation rule, which went into effect for large businesses in April. Smaller companies are required to comply by April 2018.

The rule, which covers truck and rail transportation of food (including, grains, oilseeds, animal feed and feed ingredients, and other agricultural products intended for human or animal consumption), places most of the regulatory burden on shippers, Fairfield explained. While the final rule does require that measures be taken by carriers to make sure a conveyance is suitable, there is no requirement in the final rule for shippers or loaders to know what was previously hauled in a conveyance.

However, the structure of the rule does not place any obligation on carriers to share prior-load information, which makes carriers reluctant to enter any written agreement (as provided for by FDA under the rule) that requires them to do so. NGFA is leading a coalition to come up with voluntary industry best practices to resolve this conundrum.

Fairfield also covered FDA’s Foreign Supplier Verification rule, which applies to importers of foreign food, including brokers. Describing the compliance date as a “complicated matrix,” Fairfield said the earliest date some businesses needed to comply was May 30. More NGFA guidance documents relating to FDA and FSMA can be found here.

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