Planting season for many is right around the corner, if it hasn't already started. Meanwhile, the country is dealing with unprecedented times where schools, restaurants and businesses are closed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and we are encouraged to keep social gatherings to no more than 10 people.
As farms, we simply can't halt upcoming farm production, and yet we also can't simply go about business as usual. We have to look at how to keep our families and employees safe amid these uncertain times.
Our first line of defense is constant communication as we adjust behaviors and expectations with our team. How we interact, how we handle being sick and how we sanitize our farms needs to be a focus, especially as we have multi-generations on the farms working together.
SETTING BEHAVIOR EXPECTATIONS
If you haven't already held a meeting with your team, whether that is composed of only family members or includes employees, now is the time to hold a deep discussion. As a team, hold a brainstorming session on ways to prevent the spread of viruses on your farm and outline what expectations you would like to see from one another.
I have personally eaten pizza sliced with a dirty pocketknife in a field during harvest on more than one occasion. Obviously with what is going on today, that practice would need to go away. As a group, agree on what behaviors would keep the team the safest, including social distancing even on farms. We don't need to stand that close, and we certainly can hold discussions over the phone.
Agree upon sanitation practices for your farm. A few ideas include instructions on how to wipe down the inside of trucks and trackers, especially on door handles, steering wheels and controllers. Assign someone to wash bathrooms, breakrooms and offices daily versus weekly or biweekly. Increase the number of times employees are washing their hands throughout the day.
Discuss whether your visitor policy should change. On family farms, we often allow family to come visit during planting season to help cope with the longer hours. Should the rules change during these times?
WHEN EMPLOYEES ARE SICK
We also need to discuss expectations when employees are sick. During our busy season, if someone can still make it through the day, we will take them up on that offer whether they're sick or not. It would be best to discuss how that expectation has changed. If they are not feeling well or have the slightest fever they should be expected to stay home. If you have a large number of employees, consider asking them to take their temperature each morning.
PAID TIME OFF POLICIES
If you don't have a paid time off policy for sick time, which most small businesses do not, now would be a good time to outline what that looks like for each employee and how the company will be handling time off for illnesses.
The House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides two weeks of paid sick leave up to 100% of an individual's pay with a cap per day. Small employers would be able to submit those expenses for tax credit. Employers with less than 50 employees, could file for exemption. More to come on final details as it heads to the Senate for approval.
Communication on the farm and constant updates to the employees will go a long way to relieving the tension and anxiety your team might have. The CDC has printable one-page information sheets that share information on symptoms to look for and prevention measures (https://www.cdc.gov/…). Post them in the breakrooms or by the timeclocks at your farm. Updates are changing by the day, and keeping the team informed of recommended practices and any new information on how to prevent should be a constant focus to share.
Editor's Note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm and is the founder of AgHires (https://aghires.com/…), a national employment recruiting service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email firstname.lastname@example.org find other labor management tips under Resources at www.dtnpf.com.
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