Considerations to help producers protect themselves, their families and employees from novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19.
Agricultural operations are part of the national food production and distribution system and deemed critical to the United States infrastructure. Because livestock operations are on-going and crop, along with fruit and vegetable, operations will be ramping up activities in the next few weeks, it is vital to find ways to help reduce your farming operations exposure to COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by novel coronavirus. The following considerations are ways to reduce the risk of spreading the virus while protecting your farming operation during this critical spring season.
Your family and your employees are critical to you and the success of your operation. Therefore, it is imperative that everyone monitor their own health. Isolating yourself if you become sick is only the first step at reducing risk of transmission in your operation. Make plans to reduce the impact on employees missing work so that they make responsible health decisions. This can be done by reviewing your employee sick day or absentee policies and communicating any changes or adjustments made for this situation.
Practice social distancing. Examples of this include staggering lunch breaks, rotating shifts to reduce the number of people present at the operation and reevaluating tasks that require multiple people to be in close proximity to each other (less than 6 feet between employees).
Set up additional hand washing stations in areas that make sense for your operation. Ask employees to sanitize their hands and other touch points between tasks, prior to breaks or lunch periods.
Provide methods to disinfect equipment and supplies, especially those that are shared between employees. Suggestions include keeping spray bottles of disinfectant handy in tractors, vehicles, etc. and providing a way for employees to sanitize their hands when moving between buildings, rooms, vehicles and equipment. Remember to include a garbage bag or place to throw away contaminated materials, such as gloves or wipes, within easy reach that can easily be removed at the end of each shift or task.
Focus on becoming a better communicator or trainer from a distance. Use cell phones, written instructions, etc. to outline instructions that can help get the job done right with less human to human contact. If your farm moves operations to shifts, utilize a physical or virtual message board to communicate what tasks have been completed and what needs to be done.
Considerations for farm operation management
Bring in feed, seed and fertilizer as soon as you can safely store or apply it. As long as the supply chain transportation system keeps working, long-term supply issues are not expected for production agriculture inputs.
Limit your exposure to other people. Work with your agribusinesses to schedule pickup and drop-off of rental equipment by phone.
Inquire with suppliers about what can be done to protect both their employees and your operation. Curbside pick-up of parts or delivery to a specific location on your farm may be reasonable options. Care should also be taken to order parts/supplies over the phone when possible. You might want to learn more about how to access parts diagrams on the computer if you normally consult with staff at the parts counter to determine what is needed.
Complete frequent sterilization of surfaces that are regularly used by more than one person according to CDC recommendations on products and contact time.
Utilize standard operating proceeds (SOPs) for your operation so that if you happen to become sick, work can continue as needed. If family members or an employee are responsible for specific tasks, have each person write down their activities along with any timeline necessary for payments, reporting, purchasing, etc.
If you provide employee housing, it is important that you and your staff have a contingency plan in place for alternative housing or cleaning and disinfection processes so that your operation can continue on a normal schedule.
While you can’t completely eliminate the risk of becoming ill from viruses, these steps will help lower the risk to you and your employees. Many of the principles of biosecurity and food safety are also relevant to reduce the spread of human born illnesses. One excellent site for food safety information can be found at the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety website.
During these unprecedented times, people may experience mental clutter during their everyday activities. Safety is critical and should be prioritized on every operation. Allowing people time to express their thoughts or process current events is important so they can complete their task safely and without distraction.
Staying abreast of this rapidly changing situation is difficult. To stay informed, go to the following websites.
General information on COVID-19
Information specific to agricultural labor
- H-2A Visa Program from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Comprehensive and Updated FAQs For Employers on the COVID-19 Coronavirus from Fisher Phillips
- Covid-19 OPM Guidance from National Association of Agriculture Employees (NAAE)