How to deal with COVID-19 as a grower

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a common concern and many are wondering what they can and should do. The University of Vermont has posted information intended to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected. One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. Much more information is available at the CDC Situational Summary page.

What should growers do?

  1. Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
  2. Practice Social Distancing – By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
  3. Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly. Then, dispose of paper towels in a covered, lined trash container.
  4. Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying – Viruses, in general can be relatively long-lasting in the environment, and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
  5. Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site.

What should markets and farmers markets do?

  1. Everything Above – Growers, retail food market owners, and farmers market managers should do all the things above. Does your market have a hand washing station? More guidance for food and lodging businesses is available from the Vermont Department of Health.
  2. Communicate with your Customers – Consider reaching out to your customers and recommend they stay home if they are ill. Have you informed your customers about any changes in your hours or policies?
  3. Consider Alternative Delivery – Some markets are taking this opportunity to launch pre-ordering and electronic payment options to enable social distancing at market. Some markets are moving to a drive-through pickup option.
  4. Reinforce the Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – We’re fortunate to have so many growers who do a great job with storage crops and winter production. This means our community has access to fresh fruits and vegetables that are important to their immune systems at this time of need.  Be sure to promote the nutritional value of your products! But, keep in mind that promotion of your products should be within reason. Avoid making overly broad or unsupported health claims. Fresh produce contains many minerals and nutrients important for immune health which may reduce the severity and duration of an illness. Fun Fact: Pound for pound, that storage cabbage in your cooler has as nearly as much vitamin C as oranges. 

"At this time, we simply cannot be careful enough"
Tim Cullinan, President of Irish industry association IFA, has asked the public to be particularly conscious of biosecurity on farms at this time.

“Farms are a vital part of the food distribution system. We need the highest level of biosecurity measures in place. Farmers will have their own biosecurity measures to facilitate the collection of their produce, and to receive deliveries of feed and care for their animals”, he said.

“I am asking members of the public not to call to farms. Those who have business on farms should call strictly by appointment only. Members of the public should avoid entering farms for leisure activities such as walking, shooting or hunting,” he said.

“It is absolutely vital that we keep our food supply chain moving. Many farms will be in trouble if the farmer falls ill or if people involved in processing or transporting produce or supplies become ill or have to self-isolate,” he said.

“At this time, we simply cannot be careful enough. Irish farmers not only feed over four million people here, but we provide raw materials that feed over 30 million in other countries. It is critical that the Irish, European and global food supply chains remain in operation to ensure that people can continue to have access to proper nutrition in order to maintain a balanced diet,” he said.

EBRD unveils €1 billion emergency coronavirus financing package
The EBRD has unveiled an emergency €1 billion “Solidarity Package” of measures to help companies across its regions deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is an initial response to the crisis and the Bank stands ready to do more if and when needed.

The proposals were approved by shareholders of the Bank which invests to support the development especially of the private sector across 38 emerging economies.

Under the emergency programme, the EBRD will set up a “resilience framework” to provide financing for existing EBRD clients with strong business fundamentals experiencing temporary credit difficulties.

Commenting on the EBRD’s response to the global health crisis, EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti said, “The COVID‐19 pandemic and its economic consequences present an unprecedented challenge to the EBRD and its countries of operations.”

He added, “To respond in solidarity with its shareholders, countries of operations, partners and clients, the Bank has today established a resilience framework comprising  €1 billion of new and additional funding for existing clients, comprising emergency liquidity, working capital and trade finance. This is a first step. The Bank stands ready to further scale up its response, and is taking active and urgent steps to review, adjust and expand its financing instruments, in partnership with its countries of operations, partner IFIs and the international community.”

The planned measures will include an expansion of trade finance and the provision of short-term finance of up to two years through financial institutions, specifically in support of small and medium sized enterprises.

The Bank will seek to provide short-term working capital facilities of up to two years for other corporates and energy developers and balance sheet restructuring and short term liquidity support for municipal, energy and infrastructure clients.

It will assess the need to restructure existing loans, including the possibility of extending maturities and changing other conditions and use its ability to disburse in local currency, including the possible conversion of existing facilities into local currency.

The response will put a premium on providing a rapid response to the needs of companies that are suffering from the effects of the Coronavirus and the global economic turmoil that has ensued.

In formulating its own response, the EBRD is closely following the statements of its major shareholders and coordinating with other multilateral development banks in order to exchange ideas and learn from previous experiences.

This EBRD’s package of emergency measures comes as the Bank is already pledging strong support generally for its existing countries of operations and follows a record level of investment of €10.1 billion in 2019.

The EBRD’s economists are expecting economic output to be affected right across its regions of operations, with growth seen slowing especially in Central Asia and also in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, Russia and south eastern Europe.

Countries that are highly integrated into global supply chains, and in particular have direct dependencies on China and Europe, are likely to suffer most from the virus. The tourism industry is likely to be affected in many of the EBRD’s countries.

The recent slump in oil prices will have also an impact on oil producing countries in the EBRD regions and the flow of remittances from workers back to their home countries is also expected to slow.


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