Managing COVID-19 risks during planting

Five steps to keeping family and workers safe

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Farmers face unique safety risks as COVID-19 continues to spread.

The COVID-19 outbreak will continue to float through North America as spring planting season shifts into high gear, says Rusty Lee, University of Missouri Extension field specialist in agronomy.

Lee identified several areas where farmers can reduce their risk:

1. Deliveries: Physical distancing becomes difficult as farmers receive seed and chemical deliveries, Lee says. Shipments of seed bags and chemical containers arrive on trucks that have been to other farms. This could spell trouble if precautions are not taken, he says. The National Institutes of Health reports that the virus can survive up to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces and up to 24 hours on paper surfaces. Limit traffic in and out of the farm, Lee says. Ask to be there when delivery trucks arrive. Maintain a six-foot distance from the delivery person.

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Limit access to equipment like forklifts by people from off the farm. No one other than the farmer should operate certain equipment on the farm.

2. Sanitizing: Keep sanitizing supplies in commonly used areas such as tractor cabs and sheds. Wipe down doorknobs, steering wheels, radio knobs, grab handles, fuel tank covers and other surfaces people might touch.

3. Communicating: Lee suggests farmers change how they communicate during this crisis. “The telephone, email and your tablet are your friends,” he says. “Use technology to communicate.” This includes texting work plans to employees instead of holding morning meetings in the shed or at the kitchen table.

4. Managing generations: Farms also face special risks because up to three generations of one family may still actively work on the farm. “Your brother, sister, brother-in-law, cousin and grandfather might be part of the family farm operation,” Lee says. “Meal times and child care might include grandma and grandpa.”

Consider how to safely handle “field food” and other meals during planting season.

5. Be prepared if illness happens: Lee advises farmers to develop a written contingency plan in case of illness of the farmer, family members or workers. Decide who can fill vital roles and share this plan with those involved. Safety should be a priority for all who enter and leave the farm, he says. Set and follow protocols.

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