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University of Missouri Extension Recommends Precautions for Farmers Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Kristofor Husted

Farmers and other agricultural sector workers are considered essential under Missouri's new stay-at-home order, but in some ways they are more vulnerable than other workers to COVID-19. That's according to new University of Missouri extension guidelines, which point to the fact that family farming operations often have multiple generations of workers sharing the same equipment. Extension also cites CDC projections which put COVID-19 outbreaks peaking in the middle of planting season as another particular danger.

University of Missouri extension field specialist Valerie Tate has been working with farmers in northwest Missouri “I have seen instances where farmers are trying to figure out how to protect grandpa because he’s in that high risk category as the teenage son who is home from school or college student is using that same equipment and is maybe having more social interaction with other people," Tate said. 

The extension guidelines Tate helped compile suggest regularly sanitizing shared equipment and looking for ways to employ technology to reduce face-to-face interactions with business contact such as seed vendors and tractor parts suppliers. 

Some other tips from extension include:

  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia was a health reporter at KBIA and is documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.