By Wayne Flanary,

Field Specialist

As COVID-19 continues to spread, many farm families and agribusinesses are working to navigate the crisis and manage their operations the best they can. We need farmers and their families safe and healthy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts the peak of the COVID-19 virus outbreak will hit as planting season kicks into full gear in Missouri. Our farms are essential to the food supply, we need to keep them operating safely. Farmers face unique challenges because three generations of a family may live and work on the farm. Every farm is dependent on connections to the community for maintenance of equipment, delivery of materials, and working with service providers.

Several on-farm workers, and off-farm delivery workers, may operate the same tractor, four-wheeler, truck or forklift. Think about how to reduce exposure.

Ask delivery people not to use your equipment, such as a forklift, to unload seed/feed deliveries. This requires more time and planning on your part as a farmer, but it prevents cross-contamination of buildings and equipment.

Several workers may use the same tractor. One worker hops off, another hops on, adding a new set of germs. Can we limit use of a piece of equipment to one person?

For shared equipment, sanitize points of contact such as steering wheels, grab handles, seats, radio knobs and fuel tank covers between uses. Wipe down fuel tank handles and doorknobs to commonly used storage areas. Avoid use of cloth handkerchiefs and bandanas. Disposable tissues lead to less spread of germs.

Make handwashing stations easily accessible so people can wash their hands before and after using any equipment.

Farmers are accustomed to face-to-face communication. Whether it be morning meetings to plan work, picking up parts at the local equipment dealer or taking delivery from feed and seed dealers, farmers generally like direct communication. Now is the time to use technology.

Use your cell phone to call ahead to the parts dealer to see if the part is in stock. Use your phone or tablet to take a photo of a broken part so that the part number can be seen. Online parts manuals are a good resource as well. Ask if you can pay over the phone and have the dealer leave it outside.

Talk to workers by text or email rather than holding the morning in-person meeting in the shed. Practice distancing of at least six feet at all times.

Use your phone to contact MU or other advisors for advice. Call the number you usually call to reach your MU Extension specialist; they are still working.

The best way to protect your farm and family is to think through your on-farm and off-farm contacts. A little caution goes a long way.

The National Institute of Health advises that this coronavirus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Have a plan for handling shipments arriving on the farm.

Put tissues, antibacterial wipes, nitrile gloves and paper towels in common areas. This includes the machine shed, tractors, bathrooms and farm trucks. Prioritize farm safety by making supplies easy to find.

CDC advises that sanitizer does not work on greasy, dirty hands. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds instead.

Use prevention measures such as physical distancing for all involved in the farming operation.

The multi-generational farm includes farm workers who are a brother, sister, father, son, grandfather or grandmother. How are you going to protect the most vulnerable?

Minimize the number of people engaged in off farm contacts.

Think through your kids’ and grandkids’ contacts with people off the farm. They may have more contact with people off the farm than you do. Discourage young people from doing ride-alongs in tractor cabs and trucks.

Consider mealtime safety. Wash hands, maintain physical distancing and reduce group size.

Farming requires long hours, often in a race against the weather. This year, more than ever, safety needs to come first.

In normal times, certain precautions such as frequent handwashing, sanitizing equipment and farm shops may not take priority. These are not normal times and we must prioritize these basic steps.

Do not defer equipment maintenance or take other risks.

Remember people are under stress; check in on family, neighbors and community members by phone or email. Access community resources as needed.

Talk with your family, farm workers and visitors to the farm about safety precautions you have set in place.

Have a contingency plan in place before illness strikes you, your family or operation. Who can fill vital roles if needed? College students with previous farm experience may be available to help.

University of Missouri’s Extension’s web page is updated regularly with resources for farmers and ranchers. Access to resources is  available on the front page of Extension’s webpage in a box identified as “MU Extension COVID-19 Resources.”