One of the UK’s biggest dairy co-operatives, Arla Foods, has revealed the significant lengths it went to to ensure the continuity of milk collection during the coronavirus outbreak.

The firm said it would have hit problems collecting all 2,400 suppliers' milk if just one in eight tanker drivers had to take time off work to isolate or because of sickness during the peak.

The skillset of in-bound drivers is incredibly specific; as well as collecting the milk from farms, they are responsible for monitoring and testing temperature and quality to ensure food safety during transportation.

To avoid a shortage of drivers, Arla trained 19 dairy farmers and 10 members of its agriculture team to provide a back-up option for its logistics team if needed.

The training was well-received by staff, ran smoothly, and was delivered with the learning that cross-business education is a positive move for Arla in the long run.

Arla’s agriculture director Graham Wilkinson said: “Arla’s cooperative ethos meant from the start of the pandemic, its farmer owners were asking what they could do to help the business.

When we asked the elected farmers to help us with this challenge there was no shortage of volunteers.

How the plan would work

As well as implementing the standard coronavirus measures on farms, the farmers had to undergo video training and practical training with the tanker using social distancing practices.

Should there be a shortage of tanker drivers, Arla would then be able to use drivers from outside the industry with the newly trained farmers available to follow the tanker by car and manage the milk collection and quality checking aspects at farms in their region.

Arla farmer Carrie Burridge was among those to volunteer. She said: “The training was great. It really makes you stop and think about just how important the quality of our milk is.

Using the technology to test samples and learning how many safety precautions are in place really surprised me, but it’s definitely made me value our tanker drivers even more.

"I was very impressed that Arla managed to pull off the training and put in place so many measures to keep us all safe in the process.”

To support the elected farmers, 10 of Arla’s agriculture team, located across the UK, also undertook the training, including agriculture director Graham Wilkinson.

“If we’re asking our farmers to provide extra support to the business, I also wanted them to feel supported by us too," he said.

"As the saying goes, you should never ask your team to do anything you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.”

The training covered the collection process, the health and safety procedures, collecting, labelling and testing samples, the insurance requirements, and the necessary hygiene steps needed to ensure their fellow farmers' milk was protected.

Whilst the immediate risk has subsided, with the possibility of a second peak and the duration of coronavirus unknown, the farmers and Arla’s agriculture team will remain on hand to support Arla’s logistics team if needed.

The initiative was one of many across Arla Foods as colleagues have taken on additional training to provide back up support at production sites to business functions most impacted by recent events.

In total, over 21,000 hours of coronavirus related training has been carried out by Arla in the last two months.