Recent closings of ag processing plants across the nation have impacted the ability to move agriculture products. Plants have been closing as a result of employees being impacted by coronavirus (COVID19), leaving plants with few options but to slow production or even close due to lack of employees. In Wisconsin, the coronavirus is expected to peak toward the end of April and beginning of May. Now is the time to communicate with employees regarding plans to keep them safe, healthy, and working especially during the busy planting season.
Whether your farm workforce consists of hired labor, family members, or a combination of both, COVID-19 has the potential to create major challenges as you attempt to keep your operation running smoothly. Make sure your employees understand that your primary concern is their health and the health of their families.
Now is the time to build a plan should any of your employees, key team leaders, or you yourself fall ill. Start by developing a list of all the critical tasks on the farm. Prioritize your list into the “must haves”, “nice to haves”, and the “can wait, for nows”. These guidelines with example templates for dairy operating plan and a crops/planting plan can help as you develop your own plans, and are available on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension “Extension Responds to COVID19” web resource page https://farms.extension.wisc.edu/coronavirus/
Think about the way your workers do their work. Are they practicing social distancing? Could you organize your workforce into smaller teams to limit exposure to other employees? Smaller teams with less interaction between teams could limit the impact of the virus if one person comes to work infected prior to showing symptoms. Is there work that could be done by an individual instead of by groups? Even if things take a little longer, it may be the best approach to keep workers a safe distance from each other. An Extension guide for Labor Disruption Planning is available to help you address these questions and develop proper plans to help you deal with labor disruptions.
Provide clear communication to your employees regarding your expectations to keep everyone healthy and safe including recommended hygiene practices. Require employees who are sick to stay home and understand why this may be challenging for the employee. The Paycheck Protection Program can provide support for you continue to pay employees. Find specific steps you can take now, in “Guidance for Farm Employers” factsheet and videos to keep employees safe (short video and factsheet also in Spanish).
While much of the negative impact on agriculture by COVID19 is out of our control, there are things you can do now to reduce or prevent COVID from impacting the health and productivity of your farm.