COVID-19……Changing the Way We Do Business on the Farm

by, Mike Estadt, Agriculture Extension Educator in Pickaway County

The State of Ohio is starting the process of opening for business this week. Farms across Ohio never closed.  With developments recently with the food processing chain breaking down due to the COVID-19 virus one can easily see why it is vitally important to have contingency plans for disruptions to your business no matter how big or small.

Have you given serious thought to what would happen to your farm or agricultural business if you or a key employee(s) were to become ill due to the coronavirus or for that matter any health related event that would prevent you from getting your crop planted, managed through the growing season or harvested in the fall?

In response to this scenario Dr. Dee Jepsen, State Safety Program Leader and Lisa Pfeifer, Educational Program Manager, Agricultural Safety & Health have authored a white paper entitled “Navigating COVID-19 on the Farm” with some excellent ideas and daily best management practices to mitigate risks on your farm.  This paper can be found at: https://u.osu.edu/ohioagmanager/2020/04/23/navigating-covid-19-on-the-farm-best-practices-for-daily-management-of-s-and-people/anitation-deliveries-equipment-repairs

Another great supporting document that should be part of every farm, nursery, and ranch is an operational plan in the case of an emergency.  Quite often the details of complicated farm operations are known only be one person, the farmer.  Tyler Williams, Cropping Systems Extension Educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has developed two comprehensive fillable Word documents for row crop and cow-calf producers available at: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/2020/farm-operations-plans

 

 

Farm Office Live on Monday April 27

OSU Extension is pleased to be offering the third session of “Farm Office Live” session on Monday evening, April 27, 2020 from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m.  Farmers, educators, and ag industry professionals are invited to log-on for the latest updates on the issues impact our farm economy.

The session will begin with the Farm Office Team answering questions asked over the past week.  Topics to be highlighted include:

  • Update on the CARES Paycheck Protection Program
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)
  • Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Update
  • Ethanol and biofuel update
  • ARC and PLC Forecasts
  • Other legal and economic issues

Plenty of time has been allotted for questions and answers from attendees. Each office session is limited to 500 people and if you miss the on-line office hours, the session recording can be accessed at farmoffice.osu.edu the following day.  Participants can pre-register or join in on Monday evening at  https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive 

We are In This Together

bySarah Noggle, Extension Educator, ANR, Paulding County & Chris Zoller, Extension Educator, ANR, Tuscarawas County

Daily, farmers are taxed with challenges. We think of farmers as superheroes.  Superheroes have some sort of extraordinary power, but at times their shield is not enough to deal with what is coming their way. The weakness Superman had was kryptonite, and like Superman, farmers usually can only fight off so many scenarios being thrown at them.  The day-to-day tasks of managing a farm can cause stress and frustrations.  Add to this the impact of COVID-19 on farm commodities, and it’s obvious the strain takes its toll on everyone.

Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension, shares stress and mental health, management tips.

Why is it that some farmers can handle lots of stress and others very little? Researchers who have examined differences between successful and unsuccessful stress managers have identified three key factors. First, individuals vary in their capacity to tolerate stress. For example, prolonged exertion and fatigue that would be only mildly stressful to a young farmer but may prove very difficult for an older farmer or someone with a heart defect.  Emergencies on the farm, delays, and other problems that a confident farmer takes in stride may be a stumbling block for one who feels inadequate. While part of an individual’s stress tolerance is inborn, a crucial part depends on the quality of coping skills practiced. Learning to cope successfully with a stressor once makes it easier the next time.

A second factor is feeling in control. Successful stress managers know how to accept those stressors out of their control – the weather, their height, stock market fluctuations – and how to effectively manage those stresses within their control – such as neck tension, temper flare-ups, or record keeping.

Finally, the attitudes, perceptions, and meanings that people assign to events determine a large part of their stress levels. A person has to perceive a situation as stressful or threatening to experience stress. If you think your dog is barking in the middle of the night because of a vandal, you will experience more stress than if you suspect a skunk has wandered into your yard.

Stress can be defined as energy in a blocked or chaotic state. Individuals should seek to develop calm, free-flowing energy that promotes harmony and balance in a person’s body, psyche, and soul. To relax and manage stresses well during peak farm/ranch stress seasons – planting and harvesting – takes discipline and daily practice at controlling events, attitudes, and responses.

Following are some techniques individuals may adopt to gain control.

Control Events

Plan ahead. Don’t procrastinate.

  • Before planting and harvest, discuss who can be available to run for parts, care for livestock, etc.
  • Set priorities about what has to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. Plan your time.
  • Say no to extra commitments that you do not have time to do.

Control Attitudes

  • See the big picture: “I’m glad that tire blew out here rather than on that next hill.”
  • List all the stresses you now have. Identify those you can change; accept the ones you cannot change.
  • Shift your focus from worrying to problem-solving.
  • Think about how to turn your challenges into opportunities.
  • Notice what you have accomplished rather than what you failed to do.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations daily. Give up trying to be perfect.

Control Responses

  • Focus on relaxing your body and mind. Keep only that muscle tension necessary to accomplish the task.
  • Tune in to your body. Notice any early signs of stress and let them go.
  • Take care of your body. Exercise regularly and eat well-balanced meals.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes, using alcohol or other drugs, or using tranquilizers or sleeping pills.
  • If your health allows, tense and then relax each part of your body from toes to head, one section at a time.
  • Take a break. Climb down from your tractor and do a favorite exercise.
  • Take three deep breaths – slowly, easily. Let go of unnecessary stress.
  • Stop to reflect or daydream for 10 minutes. Close your eyes, and take a short mental vacation to a place you enjoy. See the sights; hear the sounds; smell the smells. Enjoy. Then go back to work feeling refreshed.
  • Think positive thoughts: “I can and will succeed.”
  • Look for the humor in things that you do.
  • Find someone with whom you can talk about your worries and frustrations.
  • Seek help when you need it. There are times when all of us can benefit from professional advice or support.

Seeking Help

Depending upon your situation, having a friend or relative to share your concerns may suffice.  Other times, you may benefit most from a trained professional.  The following are resources we hope you find useful.

So remember, like Superman, farmers can’t always hold up their shield to fight off all the scenarios being thrown at them. It’s okay to don your cape and reach out. Mental health challenges affect one in four adults according to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization in 2017. Even in our rural communities, there are sources of help. Additionally, reach out to OSU Extension in any of the 88 counties and we can point you in the right direction.

 

 

Navigating COVID-19 on the Farm – Best practices for Daily Management of Sanitation, Deliveries, Equipment Repairs, and People

by:  Lisa Pfeifer, Educational Program Manager, Agricultural Safety & Health & Dee Jepsen, PhD, Associate Professor and State Safety Program Leader, Agricultural Safety & Health

Click here for a PDF version of this article

Practices for limiting exposure and risks related to coronavirus.

While agriculture has been a part of the essential work that continues to hum with a focus on keeping our food supply chains open amid stay at home orders, it is important not to lose sight of the fact business as usual will demand course correction and new plans to keep family and employees safe, and farms operable and secure. Information changes quickly in the face of the unknowns of this pandemic, but one prediction that has remained stable is the timeline for a vaccine. It will be 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is available, necessitating plans to see farms through spring planting, summer, harvest, winter, and spring a second time. To delve into some ideas on how to navigate a normal workday on the farm in the face of a public health emergency and an economic crisis it will take thinking outside of the box and a commitment to change some rote behavior and practice.

Where do can an individual farm or operation start?

Start by examining and planning for four areas of concern.

  • Contingency
  • Keeping Family and Employees Safe
  • Equipment Use and Sanitation
  • Deliveries and On-Site Custom Services

Contingency plans or continuity of business plans keep operations running smoothly in case of any disruption. According to a current online poll conducted by DTN and data analytics company Farm Market iD, more than 69% of farmers polled don’t have a prepared backup plan should they become sick with the virus themselves. Farms need a plan for the foreseeable future, until a vaccine is widely available. Farmers plan for herd management, crop rotation, inputs, cash flow, and equipment repair. Contingency planning will just become another part of the arsenal of best management practices, otherwise a cascade of failures may result, including:

  • Insufficient operational resources
  • Loss of workforce
  • Workers who might not be adequately trained for tasks
  • Lack of someone with operational knowledge
  • Crop or product waste

Contingency Planning

Prepare written documentation of your business operations in case of illness. Communicate the plan to family or another person who can step in during a time of need. Identify the critical functions of all sectors of your business.

  • Agronomic
  • Livestock
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources

Make sure you walk through different scenarios for the farm. Include contacts for veterinary care, equipment service, feed and seed supply. Map out the farm property, including all rented ground and buildings. Note whether or not you have any tenants in housing and what the agreements are for payment.

A small farm the owner may be the sole operator, or alternatively the sole caregivers should a spouse or family member fall ill, putting that operation at greater risk if a disruption occurs.

Do the employees or neighbors identified to help have the necessary understanding of the operation and the appropriate training to do the job? Do they have access to the all needed information? Like passwords to important accounts. Can bills be paid? Gates unlocked? Are keys needed for any equipment?

Keeping Family and Employees Safe

Start with the basics, all of the CDC guidelines — thorough hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick. Then build from there.

  • Make sure to provide a place where employees can wash hands and have disposable towels available.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol for remote locations.
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
  • Discourage sharing of any food or beverages.
  • Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment.

Post easy to follow guidelines for your employees in commonly utilized spaces. The CDC has printable resources online. Talk with employees about coronavirus to gauge their understanding and concerns. Keeping communications lines open will help each operation refine and make changes to new procedures.

Establish plans of work for employees built around health and safety considerations.

  • Assign jobs/tasks that can be done without the presence of another, if possible.
  • Instruct employees to physically distance six feet if a shared worksite is necessary.
  • Remember workers may be asymptomatic and physically difficult work activity can cause spread of droplets outside the recommended six feet of distancing. Take special precautions when assigning heavy labor tasks.
  • Utilize separate transportation.
  • Consider grouping employees to work in teams, to limit individual exposure.

Levels of risk associated with various jobs workers perform can differ and consideration must be given to where, how, and to what sources of coronavirus might workers be exposed. This will allow for appropriate plans to be made and protective mechanisms to be put in place in advance of those exposures. Will an employee come into contact with the general public, customers, elevator or ag business employees, on-site service providers, or coworkers? What about off of the farm in non-work environments? Do some of your employees face high exposure risks at home because of a spouse’s work setting?

Keeping family and employees safe will require the establishment of protocols for sanitizing common gathering places like the shop, lunch areas, and offices spaces on the farm property. Cleaning and disinfecting high touch areas like — door handles, phones, keyboards, light switches, monitors/touchpads, faucets/sinks, and restroom areas.

Equipment Use and Sanitation Plans

Knowing an optimal equipment use plan would allow for a single operator to reduce virus spread, what protocols can you put in place on your farm?

The goal should be to put steps in place to:

  • Eliminate ride sharing in all vehicles if possible
  • Sanitize each operator cabin upon entry and departure
  • Provide cleaning supplies for each tractor/employee

On all tractors and equipment, touch points should be sanitized. Include exterior handrails or grab bars, doorknobs or handles, the steering wheel, controls, handles to open windows, the key or start button, and the seat. Consider exterior equipment points with high touches as well, like hydraulic connections, hitch pins, 3-point hitch connection points, and the PTO.

For soft or porous surfaces such as tractor seats remove visible dirt and clean with appropriate cleaners, allowing for dry times between users. If dry times will put equipment out of rotation for too long, consider covering operator seats with a trash bag and changing between each operator. Get creative in how you can engineer protections around the farm.

Deliveries and On-Site Custom Services

Identify and coordinate a drop-off location for supplier deliveries, away from on-farm high traffic areas and housing. Create specific instructions for drop-off deliveries.

  • Provide the location and all procedures needed at the drop-off point.
  • Create signage to easily identify drop-off points.
  • List all point of contacts with contact information to assist with questions leading up to delivery and upon arrival.
  • Practice distancing with delivery drivers. Avoiding personal interaction is best.

When an outside source will be providing on-site services make a plan before their arrival. Instruct technicians, mechanics, and applicators to utilize their own transportation to and from the field if the work or service is to be performed off site.

Reference Materials

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

Steps on the Farm to Manage COVID-19, https://www.ncga.com/stay-informed/media/in-the-news/article/2020/03/steps-on-the-farm-to-manage-covid-19

On Farm Biosecurity to Keep Us and Employees Safe, https://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/2020-08/farm-biosecurity-keep-us-and-employees-safe#.XpSH-39bwpI.twitter

COVID-19 Guidance for farm employers, https://farms.extension.wisc.edu/covid-19-guidance-for-farm-employers/?fbclid=IwAR0eWUgzsqbqEkYP4hWt2gVE8QRH5ca-Jzdwpd5NA6icCrM0uXCfYZzxTj4

Six possible impacts of COVID-19 on farming, https://www.morningagclips.com/six-possible-impacts-of-covid-19-on-farming/?fbclid=IwAR01wkTg6AKfxikpQs-PKsaIcVMKsybNFYRq2ERMzzlV1YBNnL6XQiomubQ

Planning for a Pandemic, https://www.ocj.com/2020/04/planning-for-a-pandemic/

Join OSU Extension for Farm Office Live on April 20

OSU Extension is pleased to be offering the third session of “Farm Office Live” session on Monday evening, April 20, 2020 from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m.  Farmers, educators, and ag industry professionals are invited to log-on for the latest updates on the issues impact our farm economy.

The session will begin with the Farm Office Team answering questions asked over the past week.  Topics to be highlighted include:

  • Update on the CARES Paycheck Protection Program (It is out of money!)
  • WHIP+
  • Update on commodity prices
  • Update on Dairy Margin Coverage program
  • Update on Unemployment compensation
  • Other legal and economic issues

Plenty of time has been allotted for questions and answers from attendees. Each office session is limited to 500 people and if you miss the on-line office hours, the session recording can be accessed at farmoffice.osu.edu the following day.  Participants can pre-register or join in on Monday evening at  https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive 

The OSU Farm Office is Open! COVID-19 and Other Hot Topics on Monday, April 6 at 8:00 p.m.

As you may know, Ohio State’s campuses and offices are closed.  But we are all working away at home, and our virtual offices are still open for business.  Starting Monday April 6th, the OSU Farm Office Team  will open our offices online and offer weekly live office hours from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m.  We’ll provide you with short updates on emerging topics and help answer your questions about the farm economy.   Each evening will start off with a quick 10-15-minute summary of select farm management topics from our experts and then we’ll open it up for questions and answers from attendees on other topics of interest.

Who’s on the Farm Office Team?  Our team features OSU experts ready to help you run your farm office:

  • Peggy Kirk Hall — agricultural law
  • Dianne Shoemaker — farm business analysis and dairy production
  • Ben Brown — agricultural economics
  • David Marrison — farm management
  • Barry Ward  — agricultural economics and tax

Each office session is limited to 500 people and if you miss our office hours, we’ll post recordings on farmoffice.osu.edu the following day.  Register at  https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive.  We look forward to seeing you there!

OSU Extension to Host Two Northwest Ohio Farm Transition Programs

by: Eric Richer, OSU Extension Fulton County & Sarah Noggle, OSU Extension Paulding County

Are you interested in starting the conversation for a successful farm transition to the next generation?  OSU Extension in Northwest Ohio is holding two separate but identical farm transition meetings to assist farmers in navigating the farm transition process.

The first night will focus on the senior generation (all are invited) including estate and Medicaid planning, communication through the process, farm financial affairs and vision/management transition. The second night will focus on the next generation (all are invited) including entity formation and use in transition planning, a recap of wills & trusts, accounting implications like capital gains, gifting and share valuation, and committing to the process. Local legal and accounting professionals will be teaching sessions along with local county Extension educators.  For either program location, the cost is $20 per farm entity for both nights and including refreshments and materials.

In Fulton County, the 2-night program will be held at the Robert Fulton Ag Center, 8770 State Route 108, Wauseon, OH 43567 on January 28th and February 11th from 6:30-9:00 pm. If you are interested in the Fulton County program, download the registration form at www.go.osu.edu/fultonagprograms2020 or visit www.fulton.osu.edu. Pre-registration closes Friday, January 24th.

In Paulding County, the 2-night program will be held at the Paulding County Extension Office, 503 Fairgrounds Drive, Paulding, OH 45879 on February 20th and 27th from 6:30-9:00 pm. If you are interested in the Paulding County program, visit www.paulding.osu.edu for registration details. Pre-registration closes February 6.

Planning for the Future of Your Farm Program Planned in Tuscarawas Country

by: Chris Zoller, Extension Educator, ANR

A two-evening “Planning for the Future of Your Farm” program will be held February 12 and 19 from 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm each evening.  The program will be held at the Village of Tuscarawas Community Center on Cherry Street in Tuscarawas.

David Marrison, OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Coshocton County, will discuss developing the next generation of managers, family communications, providing income for multiple generations, keeping your farm competitive, and preparing for the unexpected.  These topics will be discussed the evening of February 12.

The evening of February 19 will feature Peggy Hall, Attorney and OSU Extension Ag Law Specialist, and Robert Moore, Attorney, Wright and Moore Law.  Peggy and Robert will discuss farm business structures, estate and transfer strategies, trusts, life insurance, tax planning, and much more.

Registration for the program is $25 per person or $35 per family.  Please make your check payable to OSU Extension-Tuscarawas County, 419 16th St. SW, New Philadelphia, OH 44663.  Please RSVP by February 5.  Questions may be directed to Chris Zoller at 330-339-2337 or zoller.1@osu.edu.

 

OSU Extension to Offer Lunch and Learn Webinars

By: Chris Bruynis, Extension Educator

In the age of multi-tasking and convenience, OSU Extension is offering a lunch and learn webinar series for farmers. We have arranged for eight topic and speakers to provide a webinar every Wednesday starting on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 and concluding March 25, 2020. Join us for eight consecutive Wednesdays for this educational series starting at 11:45 am and lasting 1.5 hours. Learn important risk management information during this lunch and learn series from top industry, private sector, and university experts important to the success of farm businesses in 2020 and beyond.

The topics that will be covered include:

February 5:         Using Financial Statements/Ratios to Make Informed Financial Decisions

February 12:      Farm Law 101: Leasing and Financing Agreements

February 19:      Grain Contracts and Markets: What to Use When

February 26:      Where to Start with Workers Compensation Benefits

March 4:             Meeting with a Lender: What Numbers are Important

March 11:           Estate Planning: What are the Tools and Options

March 18:           Grain Marketing Strategies for 2020

March 25:           Tips for Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Farm Business Employees

Farmers interested in participating should register at http://go.osu.edu/fm2020 by January 31, 2020.  At this website you can access detailed information on the speakers and the learning objectives for each session. There is also a registration link for the webinar at this site. The cost for all eight topics is $25 per registration and must be paid with credit card at time of registration.

Any question can be directed to Chris Bruynis or Marianne Guthrie at 740-702-3200 or email bruynis.1@osu.edu. We hope this program series will be beneficial to your farm business, whether you attend all the topic presentations or just some of them.

Change Your Employee Recruitment and Interview Mindset

by: Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Wayne County

Originally written for Dairy Excel column for the 10-31-19 Farm and Dairy

Labor is an important component of any farm operation.  Beyond just checking the box that a certain task has been completed, farm profitability often turns on how well a task was completed, the attention to detail and protocol.  Improving employee recruiting and interviewing skills increases the chance of hiring the right employee for your farm situation.  For many farms, employee recruitment, interviewing and hiring requires a mindset adjustment.

How do you attract dependable farm employees? What is your goal and objective when you hire a farm employee?  I once heard Bernie Erven, professor emeritus of The Ohio State University, and human resource management specialist, say that too many farms do not manage the employee recruitment and interview process.  Desperate for labor, the only job requirement seemed to be that the person could walk and breathe.  Interview questions consisted of “Have you worked on a farm before? and Do you want the job?”  A management mindset involves developing a recruitment strategy and a process to find employees that are the right fit for your farm.  Donald Cooper, an international management consultant, says that businesses become what they hire.  If your goal is high performance and excellence, you need to recruit and hire above average, high quality persons.

Employee recruitment starts before there is a job vacancy.  Effective recruitment has both an outward and an inward focus.  An outward focus is about developing relationships with persons, organizations and institutions that could provide a contact or recommend a potential employee to the farm.  Some examples include FFA chapters/advisors, career centers, and farm service persons such as veterinarians, feed and equipment dealers, technicians and ag lenders.  In Wayne and surrounding counties, OSU-ATI is an obvious source of potential farm employees.  If you run into someone with the potential to be a good employee, even if you currently don’t have a vacancy, at least collect contact information.  Some farms may even create a temporary position for the person.  Inward recruitment focus is about building a reputation as a great place to work.  If someone were to drive around the county and ask the question, who is the best farm to work for, would the questioner hear the name of you or your farm?

The next important piece in recruitment and interviewing is the job description. Job descriptions guide the interviewing and hiring process.  Specific information included in a job description includes a job title, a short summary of the major job responsibilities, the qualifications for the job including knowledge, education and/or experience necessary, the specific job duties/tasks along with the frequency with which each needs to be performed, who supervises the job and/or supervisory requirements of the job and finally, something about the expectations for hours and weekly or monthly work schedule.

The job description, when well written, helps to provide a prepared list of questions for the employee candidate interview.  Questions should provide the candidate with the opportunity to talk about their skills, knowledge, experience, and personal attributes that match the job description.  According to Bob Milligan of Dairy Strategies, the interview should be designed to determine the qualifications of the candidate, their fit for not only the job requirements but also their fit within the culture of your farm.  The interview should be structured so that the farm owner or manager is promoting the farm and the position in a positive light so that the candidate is likely to accept the job if it is offered to them.

Ask questions that provide you with information about the candidate’s knowledge, ability and attitudes.  Examples of these type of questions are; what are two practices in the milking parlor that can improve milk quality?  Describe an equipment related problem you have solved in the past year.  How did you go about solving it?  I read an article by the founder of a company called Ag Hires entitled “Top 3 Interview Questions Every Farm Should Ask”.  They are: 1. In your past jobs, of the various tasks, roles and projects, what have you enjoyed doing the most and what have you enjoyed the least?  2. What is your superpower; what is it that you are naturally good at and bring to the table wherever you work?  3. If we spoke to your co-workers and managers and asked them what’s it like to work with you, how would they describe you?

These questions are designed to learn what the candidate is passionate about, what they enjoy, what they have a natural tendency toward, and how they interact with others.  Quoting that article, “farm managers have a tendency to place too much emphasis on someone’s work history and not enough emphasis on whether the person is the right fit for the farm.  Smart people with the right attitude, motivation and natural tendencies that align with the farm culture will get up to speed quickly.”

Every farm hire is an important hire.  Farm managers with employee recruitment and interviewing skills increase the rate of successful hires.