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Getting the right feed to farmers at the right time – new ops manager finds his niche

Keith Arnold is national operations manager at GrainCorp Feeds. It’s his job to coordinate the importing and distribution of a range of supplementary feed to New Zealand dairy farmers.

Even in an ideal world, that’s a lot of orchestration. There are multiple shipping lines bringing in GrainCorp Feeds’ products from around the globe. Upon arrival, these products must then be transported to liquid and dry storage facilities dotted around New Zealand, strategically located to service each dairy region.

From these storage facilities, Keith must ensure that some products are dispatched as they are, while others are blended to the requirements of individual farmers. Once blended, these customised feeds must then be transported to farmers looking to boost animal productivity.

That’s a lot of moving parts.

We are not in an ideal world
Over the last three years, almost every industry has experienced unprecedented upheaval. As Covid disrupted lives, a succession of dominos toppled, starting with the global workforce. With workers down, every link of every supply chain was affected.

To say that Keith’s already-complicated job is now more difficult is an understatement. Far from perplexed, the man is loving the challenge.

“I’m a natural problem-solver, so I’m like a pig in mud when there’s a puzzle to be solved. Not everyone likes handling lots of moving parts, but I actually need it.

“Earlier in my career I was heavily involved with supply-chain logistics, but not so much in the last ten years. I wanted to get back to solving problems, which is why I applied for this operational role with GrainCorp. It’s a fantastic company, I couldn’t be happier.”

Playing the long game
Because GrainCorp Feeds’ offerings include products from both locally and around the globe, synchronising the arrival of these ingredients is a supply-chain challenge. There are bulk liquid tankers to manage, bulk dry ships carrying dry feed, and container ships carrying bulk feeds and additives.

With so many links, it is inevitable that there will be challenges. With production deadlines here in New Zealand, it is tempting to reach for whatever quick fix will get the job done. But even when a rapid intervention is required, Keith is always mindful of the future consequences.

“I always ask this question: If we take this logistical action now, how will it affect our ability to supply farmers in the future? I’ve seen quick fixes lead to bad ramifications down the track, and those consequences are often relational.

“If you manage to get products supplied today, but do it by burning the relationships you’ll need tomorrow, what have you gained?

“Ultimately, our business runs on good relationships. If I’m on good terms with those involved in the supply chain, I can turn to them for help when our supply puzzle gets twisted. It’s the same with the local trucking companies who transport our products between locations and to farms across the country.

“That’s why I tell my team to let me know if there are any issues putting strain on our key supply chains. A few tweaks are usually all that’s needed to get the connection back on track.”

Looking after one farmer
In orchestrating the movements of manufacturers and shipping lines, port facilities and trucking companies, Keith deals with thousands of tonnes of product every day. Given these volumes, it would be easy to lose sight of the individual farmer. Keith insists GrainCorp Feeds’ culture won’t allow that.

“GrainCorp has always asked the question: What does an individual farmer on a specific farm with a particular herd really need from us? Given the geographic, environmental and biological variables, it’s likely to be a unique feed blend, a very specific ratio of up to 20 ingredients.

“As national operations manager, my job is to make sure our feed sites have all the product and resources they need to give that farmer the right feed solution.”

Greater storage to keep farmers growing
The challenge of keeping these storage facilities fully supplied has grown in recent years. To eliminate the risk of running out of product, GrainCorp has increased its storage footprint around the country, an investment with a straightforward rationale. Keith explains.

“Farmers rely on us for feed. If we fail to deliver feed product, they miss out on animal growth or production. To minimise the risk of this occurring, we needed greater capacity for holding more ingredients. We have that now, so even when global supply chains snag, we’ll be in a better position to manage the volatility.”

The Golden Rule
Across the country, GrainCorp sites are creating and delivering customised blends to meet the specific needs of individual farmers. Every recipe is different, and every blend must be correct.

Getting the best outcome for each customer means holding two things in tension. On the one hand, there’s a recipe to be followed, and accuracy is crucial. On the other hand, there’s a need for GrainCorp staff to keep an eye out for anomalies, for something that doesn’t look right.

For Keith, this constitutes The Golden Rule: If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

“We have very high-quality control standards across all our sites. This includes spotting potential problems before they become an issue.

“I remind our feed site staff that if they see something unusual in an order, ask a question. There’s no harm in saying, ‘Are you sure this is what you want?’ If we ask the question early, it may save time and hassle later’. 

“It’s about all of us taking responsibility. We all want farmers to do well, and each of us has a part to play in making that happen.”