Farming and COVID-19: Put plan in place

Farmers had a lot on their minds heading into spring. Coming off of a flood-ravaged 2019 growing season, low grain prices and the prospect of fields being dry enough to plant were shaky.

Then they received another major kick in the teeth with the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has further battered the agricultural economy.

The pandemic raises numerous concerns as planting season nears. What steps can a farmer take to reduce the risk of COVID-19? And what happens if a farmer, family member or employee becomes ill with the virus? Do you have a contingency plan?

Farmers may feel the odds are in their favor to stay healthy because of the remote nature of their business, but being wrong can create some serious complications. Most of these issues can be avoided with a contingency plan for the farm.

Because there are so many things to think about, South Dakota Corn has worked with the National Corn Growers Association to compile a list of sound practices, safety procedures and planning recommendations that may help get through this challenging time. Here are some of those ideas.

On-farm planning

  • Schedule a brainstorming meeting with all family members and employees involved in the operation to discuss possible scenarios, solutions to potential disruptions during planting and subsequent fieldwork.
  • Develop a written continency plan. Are there neighbors who might be able to share resources and/or labor in an emergency? Who would manage for a few weeks if you or another key person is unable to leave your house or is hospitalized?
  • Make a list of immediate changes that can be implemented to lower risk on your farm.
  • Consider developing a Continuity of Business (COB) plan to keep operations running smoothly in case of any disruption. Many state departments of agriculture recommend that farms write COB plans.

Receiving deliveries

  • Identify and coordinate a drop-off location for deliveries of supplies to the farm. If possible, set this up away from on-farm high traffic areas and housing.
  • Create specific instructions for drop-off deliveries.
  • Create signs so drop-off points can be easily identified.
  • Practice distancing with delivery drivers. Maintain a distance of at least six feet and don’t shake hands.
  • Avoiding personal interaction is best.
  • Log all deliveries and on-farm entries. Utilize a visitors log for everyone entering the farm.

On-farm safety procedures

  • Minimize the exposure of outsiders. Use telephone calls, emails or texts for communications with employees or contractors who don’t live on the farm. Observe social distancing if someone visits the farm.
  • Increase sanitation of workspaces and make it part of your daily/weekly routine. Simple things like disinfecting work surfaces, countertops, computer keyboards, doorknobs, hand railings, tractor controls and monitors can make a difference.
  • Make cleaning supplies readily available, including cleaning solutions, buckets, mops and brushes to clean the shop and break areas. Place disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer on equipment, in truck cabs and in high-traffic areas.
  • Stay in the house if you’re sick. If family members are sick, they should isolate themselves as much as possible. If you have off-farm employees or seasonal help, alert them that all sick employees must stay home.
  • Inform employees where they can find sanitizing materials in the shop, in the truck and in the tractor.
  • Regularly sanitize door handles, floor mats, steering wheels and other commonly contacted surfaces.

Making a contingency plan

Pat Holloway, a field agronomist with Beck’s Hybrids in Iowa, is big on planning, especially when it comes to planting corn. As he says, “you get one shot to get it right.”

He strongly recommends a contingency plan. It doesn’t need to be pretty or formal, but it needs to be in writing; it needs to have some essential details, and you need to make it readily available and share with several others, Holloway said. Things you need to include:

  • Seed plan – Have your seed plan available.  Each seed company can provide you one if you don’t already have it available. Ask your dealer to email one if you don’t have it. Put copies of your seed plan in your seed shed, planter tractor and the truck that will be used with your seed tender.
  • Field maps – Every farm has numerous fields and locations. Make sure you provide field maps. Highlight in a plat book if possible. Mark field entrance and notes on where to start.
  • Provide specific information for each field including which hybrid to plant. Is there more than one hybrid to be planted in the same field?
  • Plant population – What’s the plant population for each field?
  • Seed treatments – If you have a specific treated seed to match up with a field, provide that information.
  • Herbicide plan – Relate relevant herbicide information for each field, so you don’t end up killing corn. Has spring chemical been applied?
  • Fertilizer plan – What is the fertility status for each field? Has it been applied? Do you use a starter fertilizer, burndown?
  • Planting depth – Do you have a target planting depth for the seed? This is especially relevant if you’re planting soybeans.
  • Row width – If your neighbor/friend is using their own equipment, they will want to know your preferred row width.
  • Equipment – Provide a list of what equipment is available for them to use. Your helper might be hesitant to use your tractor and/or planter preferring to use their own, but your other equipment will likely get called into action.
  • Contacts – Provide a list of key contacts. Is there someone who knows your operation well enough to answer questions on your behalf? Provide a list of key people such as hired help, seed dealer, a fertilizer company, fuel supplier, machinery dealership, chemical and fertilizer retailer and repair services. Make sure the family has your crop insurance agent and ag lender name and number.
  • Small stuff – Don’t forget the small stuff like the location of keys to equipment, your fuel tank, etc.

For more information, visit https://ncga.com/key-issues/other-topics/covid-19.

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