By Barbara Young Editor-In-Chief
Premium Standard Farms celebrates its first decade of pork production at its high-tech flagship site in Milan, MO, with a team of veterans, a model facility, and a vertical integration platform.
In rural America, the job site is not only where you work — it also is where you live in the ideal scenario. Such is the case for production associates assigned to pork processing duties in Milan, MO, home to Premium Standard Farms’ (PSF) facility dedicated to fresh meat manufacture. Nearly all of the 900 members of the plant’s production team live in or near the small Sullivan County town of Milan with its 2,000 population.
Paola Cordoba is among them. Cordoba, currently assigned to the packaging line at the PSF Milan complex, celebrates her seventh anniversary this May. She previously served a year in the U.S. Navy.
To be sure, operating a plant in a remote area often hampers the personnel recruitment process for meat industry candidates.
When the Milan plant opened in 1994, about 75 percent of the workforce traveled more than 50 miles a day to work. Now, 10 years later, travel time is less an issue, thanks in part to a two-year-old housing assistance program PSF funds to provide financing for first-time homebuyers in Sullivan County. So far, 34 recipients live in their own homes, having received down payments from loans offered through the PSF Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) program administered by Jason Helton, manager of communications and community development. Introduced in November 2002, the program is structured to provide a forgivable loan of up to $5,000 to help employees with money for a down payment and closing costs.
“We think quality affordable housing is important because that impacts the quality of life of our associates,” Helton says. “We also make a positive impact on the community with the EAH program. If we are able to impact the quality of life of people on our payroll, it enables us to save money by retaining them. The cost of the program is factored into our operating budget.”
Evie Williams, an 11-year PSF veteran at the Milan plant since startup, praises the EAH program as a means of creating workforce stability. A widow with two grown daughters, Williams, who lives in nearby Galt, MO, is not in the program. She is deeply involved with the needs of the Milan plant, however.
“It was very slow in the beginning,” she recalls, noting that the plant went from very small numbers initially to the more than 7,000 a day currently. “Lines are faster now, and there are a lot more people.”
Concerning tenure, Landon Young, 22, who lives 15 minutes away, returned to the Milan plant last year after a hiatus to attend technical school and complete a course on computers. He joined PSF in 2001 and was assigned to the case-ready department placing meat on trays. He went back to the case-ready department upon his return and operated a band saw until this past January when he moved to the cut floor and the sparerib line.
Mario Bryan, with nearly five years tenure at the Milan plant, worked his way up from a line position to become kill-floor supervisor in June 2003.
“I have done it all, so I can tell people how to do the job and I can also show them,” he says.
Being tri-lingual, capable of communicating in English, Spanish, and French, also is an asset in his position.
“My job is to make sure the quality is good, the tools are working, and the floor is cleaned and sanitized,” Bryan says. “Basically, that means making sure the carcass gets to the next stage in the best possible shape.”
Technology is the cornerstone of production concerning equipment and processing systems, especially for food-safety and meat-quality assurances. Meanwhile, the associates who man the equipment represent the company’s hidden assets.
“People development is critical so we invest time to enhance their skills and create a unified team,” confirms Calvin Held, vice president of processing operations — including business in North Carolina and Missouri. “Coupled with lots of communication, we teach as much as possible so our people understand the business. Our customers recognize that strength in our organization.”
Concerning hardware, lasers, computerized tracking systems, and high-tech energy conservation systems count among PSF technological advancements. The Milan facility also operates with blast chill technology designed to enhance meat quality while extending shelf life. The process produces an actual temperature of - 40°F and a wind chill factor of –100°F
The 300,000-square-foot Milan facility operates at a daily capacity rate of 7,100 pigs, totaling approximately 1.9 million annually. The site includes a fresh-water plant, waste-treatment operation, rendering, and boiler area. Pigs arrive in specially designed side unloading trucks to be held in space that replicates on-farm barns. Anesthetizing using a CO2 system follows a two-hour rest period.
“The pay back from our truck design and our anesthetizing system is enhanced animal welfare and meat quality,” notes Gene Cook, plant manager. “We also send information from our quality checks back to the farms.”
As the first recipient of the USDA Process Verified Program (PVP) accreditation, PSF enjoys a competitive edge concerning its product marketing strategy. The program — based on International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) 9000 quality management and quality assurance standards with a specific goal of enhancing the competitive position of the livestock industry — is designed to assess quality management processes including traceability.
“We started with the notion that vertical integration is the way, and then layered on the process verified component,” Held explains. “Part of our vision and value relate to accountability, which is defined in the planning process.”
To be sure, the best meat manufacture business functions with quality people, a quality labor-relations model, quality facilities and tools, and quality raw material for products.
For PSF, quality products begin with its animal production program consisting of a genetic improvement facility (GIF), sow farms, grow/finish farms, transportation, feed milling, and nutrient management. Employees are required to shower in and out of animal facilities as a bio-security measure. A strict downtime policy is observed for employees and pre-approved guests. Vehicle downtime and inspections are also key components of keeping herd health secure.
The GIF facility houses the largest artificial insemination program of its kind in the United States, and features a state-of-the-art lab and boar stud farm. A computerized environmental control system facilitates monitoring and control of the animal environment around the clock, seven days a week.
Alarms alert technicians to potential problems with temperature, ventilation, equipment, or flushing systems. The system stores real-time data from barns and sites, providing trend information used to determine environmental levels most favorable to health and growth of pigs. Diets are formulated for nutritional needs during the animal lifecycle.
“We are excited about our integrated model because we can develop products unheard of or thought of,” Bo Manly, president, concludes. “We followed the road of chasing yields for a long time. But accepting that the customer is king leads to success in the marketplace.” NPA culture of caring
Since Missouri is home to several Premium Standard Farms pork business ventures, company policy dictates a concerned citizen approach for the welfare of its fellow residents.
Missouri is an agribusiness mecca for Premium Standard Farms (PSF), whose processing and production facilities operate in various communities across five counties in the north central region of the state.
PSF’s Missouri assets total $501 million and its 2,300 employees statewide generate an annual payroll of $68 million.
Sullivan County, home to the PSF Milan, MO, fresh pork processing plant, is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, with the surge beginning in the ‘90s. By providing jobs in the plant and on the production side of its business, PSF contributed to the county’s population growth by reducing its out-migration by 50 percent.
PSF reports an increase in combined economic output and personal income statewide of more than $1 billion, coupled with $2.6 million in taxes to county governments and other local subdivisions. This amount includes taxes to local school districts totaling more than $1.35 million annually.
Last year, when PSF celebrated 10 years of operating in Sullivan County, area residents and dignitaries attended the open house at the plant. The festivities included a guided tour of the facility, presentations highlighting accomplishments in its first decade, and a product display.
Recognizing its corporate responsibility where its business operations reside motivates PSF to design and execute programs — such as its Community Advisory Panel that includes community representatives — to foster a positive relationship with citizens and various community leaders.
“Even though we live and operate in very rural areas, we are concerned about some of the same issues confronting these communities, thus we work with local officials,” notes Bo Manly, PSF president. “We work off the same watershed for new water and reuse water, so we take a more critical view in terms of how that water supply is handled. We have a plant to run and we can’t take the risk that we run out of water. We also work with the local communities on issues of wastewater. It’s really about taking a long view of how we can work symbiotically with communities to understand their unique needs, while trying to use the resources we have to benefit the communities and therefore ourselves to the highest value.”