Farming goes on despite the COVID-19 pandemic. You can’t delay growing crops. However, it’s not business as usual in agriculture this year.
That’s why farmers already have adjusted and will make more changes before the pandemic ends, says Bill Field, Purdue University Extension ag engineer and farm safety specialist.
Field highlights several changes he’s seen in ag this year:
Locked doors. One farmer reported that the front door of his local implement dealership was locked, with a sign requesting customers to order and pay online for parts. The parts would then be left outside the front door for pickup, Field says.
Another farmer told Indiana Prairie Farmer that he found an equipment dealership door locked too, but could get access by calling a phone number. What surprised him was that just two weeks earlier, he could enter the dealership, even though certain product areas were roped off. He hadn’t been notified of the change.
For some producers, these changes are problematic, Field says. They may have limited access to online services. For others, ordering a specific part requires the technical assistance of a skilled parts person with immediate access to recall notices, part number changes and service bulletins.
Can that be done by phone? Yes, but one customer who witnessed such an ongoing conversation while waiting his turn noted it seemed difficult. It became awkward when the parts man informed the customer that some models of the tractor model he was working on had a different engine, and the farmer apparently didn’t know which one he had.
In-field service. Some dealerships have promoted coming to your farm to do repairs.
However, one farmer told Field the dealership was worried about protecting the health of its employees, and rightfully so. The dealership told the farmer to leave the tractor that needed technical support outside his farm shop door and not have anyone present during the technician’s service call. That sure makes troubleshooting difficult without the regular operator present, Field says.
Protective equipment. Farmers are having difficulty obtaining personal protective equipment to carry out tasks safely, Field says. These include N95 respirators for dust protection, chemical-type goggles for anhydrous ammonia and pesticide application, face shields, rubber gloves, and Tyvek suits. Labels of ag chemicals require some of these specific personal protective items. Otherwise, risk of chemical exposure increases. With ammonia, there is potential for serious eye and skin injury or worse.
Part-time labor. Retired farmers or family members are often tapped to operate equipment, drive escort vehicles and run for parts. This age group, however, Field notes, is the most vulnerable to serious health effects of COVID-19 and may wish to sit out this growing season.
This may mean you and your family work longer hours with fewer breaks, potentially increasing the risk of fatigue-related incidents. For example, not having extra drivers to provide escort service when transporting extra-wide farm equipment could increase the risk of collisions, especially at night.
Childcare. Farm families with small children may find themselves suddenly without usual childcare services, Field says. Parents may be tempted to take younger children along with them in the truck or tractor.
“History has shown that small children and a busy planting season, along with distracted adults, are not a good mix,” he says. The risk of injury per hour of exposure for these children becomes unacceptably high.