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7 ways to slice COVID-19 risk during planting

Your phone, e-mail, and tablet are your new best friends.

This planting season will be like no other, due to the risk of farmers being sidelined by COVID-19. In this story, University of Missouri (MU) Extension writer Linda Geist interviews Rusty Lee, a MU field specialist in agronomy, about how to reduce COVID-19 risks. 

Farmers and ranchers face unique safety risks as COVID-19 continues to spread. The predicted peak of the COVID-19 outbreak likely will hit as spring planting season shifts into high gear, says Rusty Lee, University of Missouri (MU) Extension field specialist in agronomy.

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.

READ MORE: 7 tips for making a COVID-19 farm contingency plan

Here are some ways to limit exposure to COVID-19 during the busy spring planting season.

1. Limit traffic in and out of the farm. 

Ask to be there when delivery trucks arrive, Lee says. Maintain a 6-foot distance from the delivery person.

2. Make sure no one other than the farmer uses his or her tractors or forklifts to unload supplies. 

“This creates additional planning and work for the farmer, but it reduces risk of transferring the virus as one person hops off and another hops on equipment,” Lee says.

3. 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.

4. Change your communication style. 

“The telephone, email, and your tablet are your friends,” Lee 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. It also means using a phone or tablet to take a picture of a broken part to send to the parts dealer. Call ahead to make sure parts are in stock, and ask the dealer to place the part outside the door.

5. Maintain social distancing and sanitation guidelines among family. 

Farms 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.” Even within families, maintain safe practices such as distancing. Wipe down surfaces frequently and try to minimize contacts. Also, consider how to safely handle “field food” and other meals during planting season.

6. Write a contingency plan in case of illness for yourself, 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.

7. Maintain equipment, but also take care of your health.

“You are your farm and family’s most important asset,” says Lee. 

Lee reminds farmers that MU Extension specialists are still available to answer questions. 

“Many of our offices are closed at this time for our safety and the safety of others, but specialists remain available by telephone or email to help. We are still on the job!” he says. 

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