Growing our Generation: The call you never want to receive

Matt and Rachel Heimerl are editors of the Feb. 27, 2017 Growing our Generation enewsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

We are Matt and Rachel Heimerl from Licking County. We have four children, Lauren 8, Emily and Nathan our 4-year-old twins and Avery Lynn, 2. When we aren’t busy with kids we are busy working for the family farm. Heimerl Farms is a family oriented operation that raises hogs, cattle, and row crops. Heimerl Farms also operates two feed mills and a fleet of 25 tractor trailers to transport feed and livestock. Matt oversees the many moving parts of the operation and Rachel is the office manager.

Many people have been quoted as saying, “The best memories are made on the farm.” We would have to agree. We both enjoy the flexibility and opportunity to raise our children less than a quarter mile from the main farm. Living and working in production agriculture is a way life and one that we can’t wait to share with our children.

We are past chairs of the Ohio Young Agricultural Professionals and 2011 Outstanding Young Farm Couple. Both of us are AgriPOWER Institute graduates and have served in various roles of the Licking County Farm Bureau. Our most treasured position was serving on the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.

Though we keep very busy schedules with the farm and our family we have always agreed that sitting on the sideline is not an option when it comes to advocating for agriculture. We continue to look for that next opportunity to share our story, our way of life and our passion with the rest of the world.

The call you never want to receive

Heimerl Farms truck fleet
Heimerl Farms truck fleet

I will never forget standing in the middle of the National FFA Convention Trade Show working the AFBF YF&R booth. My phone rang. Matt was calling, and he said, “D.O.T. is here.” In that moment, my heart sank. You might be wondering what exactly that means, so I will tell you. The Department of Transportation oversees and enforces many of the regulations that trucking fleets must abide by. When the DOT officers show up, they come in their unmarked car, dressed in all black with their black brief cases and completely unannounced. From there they request driver qualification files, truck maintenance files, log book records, turnpike logs, and more.

Matt and I at the time were the only two people that knew much about the regulations and where to find all the files being requested. About a year before this surprise audit, we had a attended a class put on by DOT Compliance Help. Through this eight-hour class we learned a wide range of information. To be compliant we needed to have driver qualification files which is something totally separate from an employee file on every driver. We had to maintain a record of maintenance on tractors and trailers for an entire year. There were many other details but to put it mildly we had our work cut out for us.

We started tracking the needed documents internally between Matt and me. We put the files together and thought we had things under control. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or FMCSA also monitors all trucking fleets. FMCSA rates a fleet on several areas that align with the requirements of the DOT. Unfortunately we had a string of employees for a very short period that had made violations while in our trucks. These violations can range from a log book error to speeding. Even though the driver caused it, it is reflected on the company’s score. Thus, our rating had steadily increased over the course of a year. Once your rating increases in multiple categories, your company is at a higher risk of an audit.

Watching our scores and knowing that only time would help them decrease we had to be proactive. With only a fleet of 10 tractor trailers at the time, we made the decision to install Electronic on Board Recording Devices or an EOBR in all our trucks. We paired up with J.J. Keller for the software to pull the data directly from the EOBR to our main office. The EOBRs along with an android tablet were installed in each truck. This move was literally a life saver. The EOBR tracks every move the trucks make. This aspect alone eliminates the possible falsification of log books. A driver must follow what we call the 10-hour rule. For every 14 hours of on duty work or driving a driver must take 10 hours off. During this time the truck should not be moving. The software package from J.J. Keller offered a solution to driver qualification files and truck maintenance as well. All this data is stored within the system, and the system also triggers reminders when certain items are coming due or missing.

There were few factors that saved us when D.O.T came to audit our files. The first is that we made the switch to the EOBRs and J.J. Keller in July of that same year. It showed that we saw a problem and did something about it rather than turning a blind eye. The second was that Matt had stayed behind to help a shorthanded harvest crew that fall. He should have been in Louisville with me. Out of the audit there were many recommendations and luckily no fines.

With a fleet of nearly 25 tractors and trailers today there is no way that we could operate under all the regulations without collaborating with J.J. Keller. In December 2017 Electronic Logging Devices will be mandatory for nearly all Commercial Motor Vehicles. Heimerl Farms, Inc., a division started to provide better transportation for our livestock and feed, prides itself on being proactive when it comes to compliance.

Running an office
I have been working at the farm for exactly 10 years now. When I began my journey with Heimerl Farms and joining my husband and his family full-time, the farm looked significantly different. The office staff was made up of myself and my mother-in-law. Over the last 10 years we have added more livestock, more trucks, and more employees. With these additions, it is taking more office team members to ensure that no data is lost or invoice goes unpaid. Our Heimerl Farms office now staffs five full-time team members and three-part time team members. As the office structure has evolved, so has my position. The key to the transition and maintaining an efficient office has been organization, delegation, and communication.

As the farm grew we started to look at the different divisions and how those relate to the office. Our main divisions are hogs, cattle, crops, trucking, payroll and accounting. Once we established what the key divisions we had were, it was much easier to look at all the tasks that would need to be done in the office to support those areas. From there I started writing the job descriptions for each of the office team members. Job descriptions are always a work in progress. As divisions grow and take more time, certain tasks might shift to another team member existing or new.

The hardest part of a growing office team is learning to delegate. Ten years ago, I did a little bit of everything. Some things I enjoyed better than others. When it came time to turn over some of those more appetizing projects, I had to swallow my pride and trust it with another qualified team member. The reason that delegation is so important is because there are days where completing one single task is nearly impossible. As an office manager, essentially the team leader, I serve as the go-to person to answer questions and help solve those difficult problems that occasionally arise.

Office staff
Office staff

Lastly, to have an efficient and cohesive office team you must have good communication. The Heimerl Farms office is very fortunate to have a great group of ladies who enjoy working with each other. That alone helps with communication. We have for the last three years conducted one-on-one employee check-in meetings approximately every six months. This gives us the opportunity to give and receive feedback from each team member. The office team meets monthly as well. We review what is currently on our desks, discuss changes, and come up with solutions to any problems that anyone currently might be having.

Having a good team with clear vision and direction is a necessity. Being able to have good organization, the ability to delegate and open lines of communication are the areas that I try to hone in on. I am not an expert, so finding the methods that work for you is also part of running an efficient office.

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