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Employ best practices for receiving inputs safely this spring

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Farms will soon become a hive of activity as trucks rumble onto the farmyard to deliver ag input products as planting season nears. Here's how to keep your operation and employees safe while taking deliveries during a pandemic.

Farms will soon become a hive of activity as trucks rumble onto the farmyard to deliver ag input products as planting season nears. 

Putting best practices into place by limiting interactions and exposure is a way to reduce the risk of infection to your family and employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

"In light of the pandemic, it's important to have good, practical information to help reduce the risk." said John Shutske, Extension specialist for ag health and safety.

While many are eager for local restrictions to be lifted, Shutske says the need for social or physical distancing is a present reality that may continue to be necessary in the coming weeks and months.

Shutske said the biggest risk of disease transmission on the farm is coming in contact with those delivering products to the farm. 

"I know that hand-shaking is a standard practice in any business but especially in farming. But in these times it's not necessary, as it's a potential mode of transmission for the coronavirus," he said. "So practicing distancing with delivery drivers by maintaining that six-foot or more separation distance is important."

Shutske says other means of communication while conducting business with vendors including texting, email or phone calls help to eliminate potential risk of person to person exposure.

Farms should also designate a drop-off location for supplier deliveries to the farm, away from on-farm high traffic areas and housing, including areas where children might gather and play.

Farms should also designate a drop-off location for supplier deliveries to the farm, away from on-farm high traffic areas and housing, including areas where children might gather and play.

Shutske recommends posting specific instructions for drop-off deliveries, providing the location and all  procedures needed at the drop-off point. Signage easily identifying drop-off points and on-farm contact information is also helpful. 

Farmers may utilize a sign-in system for logging all deliveries and on-farm entries - providing their name, cell phone number and delivery information. 

"I know that people like to be there to see that the product, and to confirm that the right product, has been delivered," he said, "but think about alternative ways of doing that including using FaceTime and verified delivery apps."

"Make sure that you post instructions for delivery personnel in a language that they can understand," Shutske said. 

Shutske pointed out that sunlight helps to deactivate the virus making it farm less likely to cause infection.

"I realize that from a security perspective, it's not always possible to store the product outside, but do know that sunlight is going to be your friend in this particular instance," he said. 

While the Centers for Disease Control and Protection says the potential risk of the disease spreading via packages or containers that have been shipped over a period of time and in different temperatures and weather conditions is low, Shutske says there is reported evidence the virus may remain viable for up to three days on steel and plastic surfaces.

"It's ok to spray down waterproof bags or containers with a diluted bleach solution and then allow it to dry," he said. 

Safety protocols for all

In order to keep all workers on the farm safe, it's vital that everyone follow outlined practices including family members and hired help.

"The protection that you guys give each other is only going to be as good as the weakest link in the chain," Shutske said.

Training and information to prevent the spread of illness should be provided to all that includes handwashing and handling materials. 

John Shutske

"I can't overemphasize handwashing with soap and the warmest water possible. Be sure to dry your hands thoroughly after washing, making sure that you dry them with a clean paper towel and not some old hand towel or a shop towel that could potentially serve as a vehicle for spreading virus," he said.

Shutske encourages farmers to think like a CSI detective when thinking of potential contact surfaces that employees and delivery people may touch.

"If you've got delivery people going into the chemical storage shed, barn or milk house to deliver product, make sure you're thinking about door knobs, handles, and handrails," he said. "For vehicles, you should be wiping down steering wheels, control levelrs, gear shifts, turn signal controls....all places where this invisible virus could be spread through direct hand to surface contamination."

Shutske also recommended that farmers further protect themselves by wearing non-leather gloves.

"Leather is very difficult to clean so you might want to consider using nitrile or plastic gloves, or even buying a bundle of jersey gloves that are relatively cheap. Wear the gloves and then between each task, throw them in a bag in your pickup and then launder them," he said. "Using warm water and then drying them will kill the virus."

Those with off-farm employees or seasonal should be instructed that sick employees are to stay at home. Management of operations employing a large number of workers should encourage them to avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing during non-work hours.

"It comes down to a common sense approach where we make sure that we're putting each risk into perspective. This virus isn't a magic cloud, hovering over your farm that suddenly descends and infects people," he said. "It's almost always spread by person to person contact."