An interview wth… James Trevelyan

(Top) The packline at Trevelyans with the 2 metre rule in place; (Above) Daily temperatures being taken as staff arrive for work.

An interview wth… James Trevelyan

As the largest single-site kiwifruit packing operation in New Zealand, TMBC members Trevelyan’s are an essential part of the food production chain and are expected to continue operations during Alert Level 4. We caught up with Director James Trevelyan to look at how things have changed… 

You’ve been evolving operations for while now, due to Covid-19 – what’s changed for Trevelyans?
At Alert Level 2, we set the business up for one metre distancing between everyone. We redesigned smoko rooms and had tape everywhere to make it easy to see where you could and couldn’t be.  Then all of a sudden we went to Alert Level 3 and had to peel the tape off and ensure a safer, two metre distance was maintained. This meant we had to hire marquees for staff because our smoko room was no longer large enough to maintain the required distances.

How did you feel when the government escalated to an Alert Level 4?
I’ve been keeping in contact with friends from post-harvest in Italy where it had taken 59,000 cases before they got locked down, so it was a relief to arrive at this stage much quicker here in New Zealand and I feel reassured that we’re on the right track.

Now that we’re at Alert Level 4, what other precautions are in place?
We have a team that meets every single day to discuss any new challenges and come up with solutions and ideas. There are lots of things happening, like checking everyone’s temperatures when they come on site, constant monitoring of 2 metre distances and thorough hand washing etc. Reception has been moved to the front gate with a portocom, if a courier arrives they don’t interface with anyone.  Growers need to ring ahead. We’re trying to isolate the people that are here and keep them as safe as possible. We’ve also doubled our cleaning crew and are cleaning constantly!

How are staff coping?
The vibe amongst staff is a real mix – you’ve got the soldiers who just hunker down and get on with it. And we’ve also got lots of young staff who haven’t been through something like this before and they need an extra hand to hold them steady, which is ok too. It’s fair to say that this situation has been hard on staff and some have left due to the huge effort required to comply with the new rules constantly. It’s that classic up and down but I think things will start to calm down a bit as we all adjust.

Does this feel similar to the PSA crisis?
It’s that freefall at the start when you’re still trying to understand what’s being presented to you and people can see their livelihoods disappearing in front of them. When you don’t know what you’re dealing with, emotions can take over and it’s easy to become stressed out. Now that we’re at Level 4, we can start to build back up and make rational decisions.

What are the key issues facing Trevelyans right now?
Having enough staff and making sure that we’re complying with all the safety requirements as set out by MPI. We’re confident we’ve got strong processes in place but if we don’t have the staff available to pick or pack the fruit, it’ll be a struggle. At the moment we’ve got approximately five shifts on the go. In the peak of the season we’ll need at least ten shifts to run… 

What are some of the positives to come out of this situation so far?
It’s forced us to be very nimble – every time there is an impact on our productive capacity, we’ve been able to keep coming up wtih new ideas to endeavour to get our capacity back up, so we can make sure we’re still able to pack the fruit. It’s like driving a fast car down a narrow road. If we make it to the end we’ll look back and think – wow, that was a trip and a half! Another positive has been the great information sharing amongst businesses, particularly the ability to swap notes with other post-harvest facilities. And lastly, it would be the leadership that emerges during a time like this. It’s been a pleasure to see some personalities just shining throughout. There will be more positives I’m sure, but we’ve still got a long way to go.