Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 – Highlights of Tax Issues Impacting Farm Businesses

by: Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management/Director, OSU Income Tax Schools

Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2021 on Monday, December 21, 2020 which was signed by the President on December 27th. The CAA funds the government through September 30, 2021, implements COVID-19 relief provisions, and extends a number of expiring tax provisions. The $2.3 trillion bill provides $900 billion in COVID-19 relief. This article highlights key provisions for farm related issues from several Acts within the CAA’s 5,593 pages.

Additional 2020 Recovery Rebates

“Economic Impact Payments”

The Act provides for “additional 2020 recovery rebates for individuals.” The additional recovery rebate credit is $600 for “eligible individuals” or $1,200 for “eligible individuals” filing a joint return. “Eligible individuals” are entitled to a $600 credit for each “qualifying child”. (Generally includes dependent children under the age of 17.) Phaseouts apply for higher income taxpayers.

Paycheck Protection Program Loans – Covered Expenses Now Deductible

Previously, the IRS and Treasury indicated that the expenses covered by PPP loans that were forgiven (or would be forgiven) would not be deductible. This new legislation now allows for these expenses to be deducted. This provision overrides IRS Notice 2020-32 and Rev. Rul. 2020-27. The CARES Act indicated that the loan proceeds from PPP loans are not to be included as taxable income. This tax treatment would apply to original PPP loans, as well as any subsequent loans made possible by the Act.

Paycheck Protection Program – Other New Guidelines

Qualified self-employed farmers who did not have employees and had less than $100,000 of net income in 2019 were not originally eligible for the maximum forgivable PPP loan. The new legislation now allows for the PPP loan forgiveness based on gross income rather than net income. Farmers are now able to receive a PPP loan of up to $20,833 (reduced by any loan already received) based on gross receipts of at least $100,000.

The legislation amends the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to extend the covered period from December 31, 2020, through March 31, 2021. An allocation of $284 billion is included to provide first and second PPP loans to small businesses. Details of the expanded program will not be known until SBA releases required guidance.

The PPP allows borrowers to spend proceeds on payroll costs and non-payroll costs of business mortgage interest, business rent payments, and business utility payments. This new legislation expands the allowable use of PPP loan proceeds.

The legislation allows borrowers to choose a covered period anywhere between an eight-week and 24-week covered period for purposes of loan forgiveness. The covered period must begin on the date the proceeds are disbursed.

The legislation provides a simplified forgiveness procedure for PPP loans up to $150,000. The new procedure provides that such loans “shall be forgiven” if the borrower signs a certification that shall not be more than one page in length and shall require minimal supporting information.

The legislation repeals the provision in the CARES Act requiring the SBA to reduce a borrower’s PPP forgiveness by the amount of an EIDL advance.

PPP Second Draw Loans

The new legislation establishes a PPP Second Draw Loan program that generally applies to businesses with 300 or fewer employees if the business had gross receipts during any quarter in 2020 that were reduced by at least 25 percent from the gross receipts of the business during the same quarter in 2019.

To be eligible for a second draw loan, the borrower must have received a PPP loan in 2020 and used all of the proceeds of that loan for permitted purposes.

The Act allows borrowers who have not yet received forgiveness to request an increase in their loan amount if they returned all or part of a PPP loan or did not take the full amount of a PPP loan to which they were entitled. This provision allows borrowers who received loans before more favorable regulations were enacted to take advantage of those new provisions.

Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

The legislation extends and expands the employee retention credit, allowing employers to remain eligible up until July 1, 2021. Previously, employers who received a PPP loan were ineligible to claim the ERC. The new legislation retroactively allows employers who receive PPP loans to claim the ERC and to treat payroll costs paid during the loan-covered period as qualified wages to the extent the wages are not paid for with forgiven PPP loan proceeds.

For the period from January 1, 2021 and prior to July 1, 2021 the ERC percentage increases from 50 percent of qualified wages to 70 percent. Employers can count qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (instead of for all quarters) in calculating the credit. Employers qualify for the credit if their gross receipts for a calendar quarter are less than 80 percent of the gross receipts of the corresponding calendar quarter in calendar year 2019.

Economic Injury Disaster Assistance (EIDL) Loans and Advances

The Act allows Economic Injury Disaster Assistance (EIDL) Advances provided as emergency grants under the CARES Act to be excluded from gross income while the corresponding expenses would remain deductible. Additionally, loan forgiveness granted to an EIDL loan recipient under discretionary powers provided by the CARES Act does not result in gross income or a denial of deductions for allocable expenses.

New Net Operating Loss (NOL) Options

The new legislation provides farmers new net operating loss options not otherwise available in the wake of the CARES Act. Farmers have the option to temporarily carry back Net Operating Losses 2 or 5 years with some caveats.

Extension of Credits for Paid Sick and Family Leave

The Act extends the tax credits made available to employers by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act through March 31, 2021 (They were set to expire on December 31, 2020). This includes the sick and family leave credits for self-employed individuals. The new legislation does not provide additional credits for employees but allows for a larger window to utilize them if the employer chooses.

Emergency EIDL Grants

The Act appropriates an additional $20 billion for emergency EIDL grants. The Act extends the covered period for this program through December 31, 2021, and extends the period to approve the applications from three days to 21 days.

Temporary Allowance of 100% Deduction for Business Meals

The new legislation allows for a 100 percent deduction for business meals where food or beverages is provided by a restaurant, for the 2021 and 2022 tax years.

Charitable Contributions Deduction by Non-Itemizers

For tax years beginning in 2021, the Act extends and increases the above-the-line deduction for cash contributions by non-itemizers to $300 for individuals and $600 for married filers.

Extension of Deferred Employee Portion of Payroll Taxes

The Act delays the repayment requirement for the employee portion of the payroll taxes that were deferred in response to the President’s August 8 Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster.  Instead of requiring full repayment of these deferred taxes by April 30, 2021, the new legislation delays this deadline to December 31, 2021.

References:

Tidgren, Kristine A. “What COVID Relief Provisions are in the Spending Bill?” Ag Docket Perspective on Agricultural Law & Taxation, Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation, December 23, 2020

Neiffer, Paul “Deeper Dive into PPP” Agribusiness Blog Farm CPA Today, CliftonLarsenAllen Wealth Advisors, December 22, 2020

H.R. 133 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr133/BILLS-116hr133enr.pdf December 27, 2020

Ernst & Young LLP, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 extends many credits and other COVID-19 relief, Tax News Update, December 23, 2020

 

OSU Extension to Host “Planning for the Future of Your Farm” Workshop

By David Marrison, Peggy Hall and Jeffrey Lewis

Planning For Future Farm Webinar

OSU Extension will host a virtual three part “Planning for the Future of Your Farm” workshop on February 15, 22 and March 1, 2021 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. via Zoom. This workshop will challenge farm families to actively plan for the future of the farm business. This workshop is designed to help farm families learn strategies and tools to successfully create a succession and estate plan that helps you transfer your farm’s ownership, management, and assets to the next generation. Learn how to have the crucial conversations about the future of your farm.

Topics discussed during this series include: Developing Goals for Estate and Succession; Planning for the Transition of Control; Planning for the Unexpected; Communication and Conflict Management during Farm Transfer; Legal Tools & Strategies; Developing Your Team; Getting Affairs in Order; and Selecting an Attorney

This workshop will be taught by members of the OSU Farm Office Team featuring Peggy Hall & Jeffrey Lewis, Attorneys from OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program and David Marrison, Extension Educator for Coshocton County.

Because of its virtual nature, you can invite your parents, children, and/or grandchildren (regardless of where they live in Ohio or across the United States) to join you as you develop a plan for the future of your family farm.

Pre-registration is required as one packet of program materials will be mailed to participating families. Electronic copies of the course materials will also be available to all participants. The registration fee is $40 per farm family.  The registration deadline is February 10, 2021. More information and on-line registration can be obtained at go.osu.edu/farmsuccession

For more information about this webinar contact David Marrison at the Coshocton County Extension office at 740-622-2265 or by email at marrison.2@osu.edu.

FARM OFFICE LIVE WINTER EDITION

by: Barry Ward, David Marrison, Peggy Hall, Dianne Shoemaker – Ohio State University Extension

“Farm Office Live” returns virtually this winter as an opportunity for you to get the latest outlook and updates on ag law, farm management, ag economics, farm business analysis and other related issues from faculty and educators with the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Each Farm Office Live will start off with presentations on select ag law and farm management topics from our experts and then we’ll open it up for questions from attendees on other topics of interest.  Viewers can attend “Farm Office Live” online each month on Wednesday evening or Friday morning, or can catch a recording of each program. The full slate of offerings for this winter:

January 13th 7:00 – 8:30 pm

January 15th 10:00 – 11:30 am

February 10th 7:00 – 8:30 pm

February 12th 10:00 – 11:30 am

March 10th 7:00 – 8:30 pm

March 12th 10:00 – 11:30 am

April 7th 7:00 – 8:30 pm

April 9th 10:00 – 11:30 am

Topics to be addressed this winter include:

  • New COVID Related Legislation – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021
  • Outlook on Crop Input Costs and Profit Margins
  • Outlook on Cropland Values and Cash Rents
  • Outlook on Interest Rates
  • Tax Issues That May Impact Farm Businesses
  • Legal trends for 2021
  • Legislative updates
  • Farm business management and analysis updates
  • Farm succession & estate planning updates

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

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

Register at  https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive

We look forward to you joining us this winter!

Farm Management Needs Pulse Survey

The Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources program works to improve production and maximize profitability while promoting environmental stewardship.

We are reviewing our farm management resources and ask you to rank your “top 3” areas from the following list for your farm management needs and support wanted.

  1. Agricultural Finance: farm income, farm business analysis, financial management, budgeting, and investing, agricultural taxes, benchmarking, record keeping
  2. Agricultural Human Resources: farm succession planning, labor law and policy, human resource management/labor management, liability
  3. Agricultural Law: legal issues within the agriculture system and estate planning
  4. Agricultural Marketing: marketing and price analysis, commodity trading
  5. Agricultural Policy: Farm Bill/Agricultural Policy, environmental and resource policy agricultural trade
  6. Agricultural Production and Risk Management: risk evaluation and management, land use, crop and livestock production, crop and livestock insurance
  7. Agricultural Supply Chain Stability and New Market Access: stability of upstream and downstream supply chains during disruptions, identifying new markets
  8. Rural and Community Development: infrastructure – broadband access, community resources, health care, non-agricultural small business support; rural/urban interface

Please complete the survey at: https://go.osu.edu/FarmMgmtNeeds by December 18, 2020.

Thank you.

Dairy Risk Management Series Offers a Range of Important Information to Producers

By Ben Brown, Dianne Shoemaker and Chris Zoller

Offered in three sessions during November, OSU Extension, in partnership with the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, delivered a dairy risk management webinar series covering three important topics: milk pricing and producer price differentials, outlooks for domestic and international milk product markets, and dairy risk management tools. Slides and recordings for all presentations can be found at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/events/archived-videos.

Session one was presented by Mark Stephenson from the University of Wisconsin discussing milk pricing and producer price differentials. Due to COVID-19 disrupting supply chains and a change in the 2018 Farm Bill using the average of Class III and Class IV milk prices instead of the higher of the two to set Class I milk prices, Ohio dairy producers experienced several months of historically large negative producer price differentials. According to Dr. Stevenson, these negative PPDs could continue for a couple more months and producers need to be aware of these when making business planning decisions. Dr. Stephenson’s presentation can be found at https://studio.youtube.com/video/fpGfd5c0pi4/edit.

Session two highlighted domestic and international markets. William Loux from the U.S. Dairy Export Council started off the session with a presentation on dairy supply and demand outside the United States. International demand for US dairy products is up in 2020 driven primarily by China and the Middle East/ North Africa Region. Southeast Asia also saw large year over year increases in dairy product imports. Loux pointed out there are a couple things to watch for in the next couple of months: COVID-19 resurgence, Brexit and the ability to trade with England, and the subsidization of dairy exports by India. He concluded by saying it is a good sign that the US continues to export dairy products in strong numbers even with US dairy prices above world dairy prices. His session can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJsHMSkcHVc

Also in session two, Mike McCully from the McCully Group provided price expectations for US dairy markets over the next 12 months. Key points from his presentation included product specific outlooks with cheese prices being strong on solid demand, butter prices being extremely weak on burdensome supplies and milk prices being relatively stable. He continued that the outlook is mixed, with dairy markets having a bearish tone heading into the first quarter of 2021 on growing milk supplies and concerns over demand, but the second half of 2021 being more bullish given an expected reduction in milk supply growth and possible demand improvements. Mike’s full presentation can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAy6Xy-Nb7s&t=119s

Session three focused on risk management tools for dairy producers. OSU Extension Educator Chris Zoller provided an overview of USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage program, which is authorized through the Farm Bill every year. Producers wishing to sign up for DMC need to contact their FSA office prior to December 11 to enroll for 2021. Chris’ presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR_4SukNX2I&t=24s

Dr. Kenny Burdine, Associate Extension Professor, University of Kentucky, also presented during session three.  Dr. Burdine discussed Livestock Gross Margin Insurance- Dairy and gave a brief overview of using futures and options in milk price protection. Dr. Burdine suggested USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program as the first level of protection for smaller producers, with Livestock Gross Margin Insurance- Dairy being the second level of protection. Kenny’s presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdjEijnDCMw

Session three concluded with a presentation by OSU Extension Educator Jason Hartschuh on Dairy Revenue Protection Insurance offered through the Risk Management Agency. Jason reviewed six decisions for dairy producers to consider and provided examples of how to use the program. Additional information about this topic can be found at dairy@osu.edu under Dairy Revenue Protection. Jason’s presentation from the webinar series can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B38TVJkrlQU

For any additional questions or thoughts for future risk management webinars please reach out to Ben Brown at brown.6888@osu.edu, Dianne Shoemaker at shoemaker.3@osu.edu, Chris Zoller at zoller.1@osu.edu or your local OSU Extension Office.

Ohio Farm Custom Rates 2020 Released

by: Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management, OSU Extension, Agriculture and Natural Resources, John Barker, Extension Educator Agriculture/Amos Program, Ohio State University Extension Knox County and Eric Richer, Extension Educator Agriculture & Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension Fulton County

Farming is a complex business and many Ohio farmers utilize outside assistance for specific farm-related work. This option is appealing for tasks requiring specialized equipment or technical expertise. Often, having someone else with specialized tools perform a task is more cost effective and saves time. Farm work completed by others is often referred to as “custom farm work” or more simply, “custom work”. A “custom rate” is the amount agreed upon by both parties to be paid by the custom work customer to the custom work provider.

Ohio Farm Custom Rates

This publication reports custom rates based on a statewide survey of 377 farmers, custom operators, farm managers, and landowners conducted in 2020. These rates, except where noted, include the implement and tractor if required, all variable machinery costs such as fuel, oil, lube, twine, etc., and the labor for the operation.

Some custom rates published in this study vary widely, possibly influenced by:

  • Type or size of equipment used (e.g. 20-shank chisel plow versus a 9-shank)
  • Size and shape of fields,
  • Condition of the crop (for harvesting operations)
  • Skill level of labor
  • Amount of labor needed in relation to the equipment capabilities
  • Cost margin differences for full-time custom operators compared to farmers supplementing current income

Some custom rates reflect discounted rates as the parties involved have family relationships or are strengthening a relationship to help secure the custom farmed land in a cash or other rental agreement. Some providers charge differently because they are simply attempting to spread their fixed costs over more acreage to decrease fixed costs per acre and are willing to forgo complete cost recovery.

The complete “Ohio Farm Custom Rates 2020” is available online at the Farm Office website:

https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farm-management-tools/custom-rates-and-machinery-costs

Farm Office Live Scheduled for October 7, 2020

Join the OSU Extension Farm Office team for discussions on the latest agricultural law and farm management news.  The next session will be held on October 7, 2020 8:00 – 9:30 a.m.

Farm Office Live will be back for a review of the latest on round two of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), 2020 crop enterprise budgets, new custom rates and Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents survey summary, Ohio’s COVID-19 immunity legislation, and other current issues in farm management.

Join our experts for quick presentations and Q & A.   Go to https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farmofficelive  to register or view past webinars and PowerPoint slides.

 

Governor Signs Ohio Coronavirus Immunity Bill

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

It took five months of negotiation, but the Ohio General Assembly has enacted a controversial bill that grants immunity from civil liability for coronavirus injuries, deaths, or losses. Governor DeWine signed House Bill 606 on September 14, stating that it strikes a balance between reopening the economy and keeping Ohioans safe.  The bill will be effective in 90 days.

The bill’s statement of findings and declaration of intent illustrate why it faced disagreement within the General Assembly.  After stating its findings that business owners are unsure of the tort liability they may face when reopening after COVID-19, that businesses need certainty because recommendations on how to avoid COVID-19 change frequently, that individuals who decide to go out in public places should bear responsibility for taking steps to avoid exposure to COVID-19, that nothing in existing Ohio law established duties on business and premise owners to prevent exposure to airborne germs and viruses, and that the legislature has not delegated authority to Ohio’s Executive Branch to create new legal duties for business and premises owners, the General Assembly made a clear declaration of intent in the bill:  “Orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability” and “are presumed to be irrelevant to the issue of the existence of a duty or breach of a duty….and inadmissible at trial to establish proof of a duty or breach of a duty in tort actions.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), refers to it as the “Good Samaritan Expansion Bill.”  That name relates to one of the two types of immunity in the bill, a temporary qualified immunity for coronavirus-based claims against health care providers.  In its original version of H.B. 606, the House of Representatives included only the health care immunity provisions.  Of interest to farms and other businesses are the bill’s general immunity provisions, however, added to the final legislation by the Senate.

General immunity from coronavirus claims

The new law will prohibit a person from bringing a civil action that seeks damages for injury, death or loss to a person or property allegedly caused by exposure to or transmission of coronavirus, with one exception.  The civil immunity does not apply if the exposure to or transmission of coronavirus resulted from a defendant’s “reckless conduct,” “intentional misconduct,” or “willful or wanton misconduct.”  “Reckless conduct” means disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that conduct or circumstances are likely to cause exposure to or transmission of coronavirus and having “heedless indifference” to the consequences.

Government guidelines don’t create legal duties

Consistent with the bill’s stated intent, the new law clarifies that a claimant cannot assert liability based on a failure to follow government guidelines for coronavirus.  The law states that any government order, recommendation or guideline for coronavirus does not create a duty of care that can be enforced through a civil cause of action.  A person may not admit such orders and guidelines as evidence of a legal right, duty of care or new legal cause of action.

No class actions

Another provision in the new law also prohibits a class action that alleges liability for coronavirus exposure or transmission if the law’s general immunity provisions do not apply.

Time period covered

The general immunity provisions apply only to a specified period of time:  from March 9, 2020, when the Governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, until September 30, 2021.

Workers compensation not addressed

An earlier version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives would have classified coronavirus as an “occupational disease” and would have allowed food workers, first responders and corrections officers to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the disease.  However, the Senate removed the workers’ compensation provisions from the final bill based on its belief that the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is already covering 85% of such claims.

What does H.B. 606 mean for agricultural businesses?

The new law provides certainty that agricultural businesses won’t be assailed by lawsuits seeking damages for COVID-19.  A person claiming harm from exposure to COVID-19 at an agricultural business will only be successful upon a showing that the business acted recklessly and with intentional disregard or indifference to the possibility of COVID-19.  That’s a high evidentiary standard and burden of proof for a claimant.

As is often the case when an immunity bill is enacted, however, there are several reasons why businesses should not let down their guards because of the new law.   Note that while the law rejects government guidelines and orders about COVID-19 as a basis for placing legal duties upon businesses, following such guidelines and recommendations can counter an allegation of reckless or indifferent behavior about COVID-19 exposure or transmission.  And there can be consequences from COVID-19 other than litigation, such as impacts on customer and employee health and safety, workers’ compensation claims, and negative publicity from an alleged COVID-19 outbreak.  Continuing to take reasonable actions to manage COVID-19 and documenting actions taken can enhance the certainty offered by Ohio’s new COVID-19 immunity law.

Read H.B. 606 here.

First Aid at Agritourism Venues during COVID-19 Pandemic

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

Lisa Pfeifer, Educational Program Manager, Agricultural Safety & Health

When agritourism operations are open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to consider how first aid treatment will be impacted. No matter their size, medical emergencies require prompt attention. Having trained employees ready to handle the situation, shows responsibility and compassion of the agritourism venue.

First Aid Kits

Every agritourism operation should have a first aid kit available for employees (and possibly the public) to access. Kits are available in different sizes. Permanent kits can be mounted in a central location; portable kits are good to have in farm vehicles and also readily available to take to remote areas away from the main building. Items in the kit can be personalized to your operation and include:

  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Gauze pads & various sized bandages
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Burn cream
  • Insect sting relief
  • Sunscreen
  • Eyewash kit
  • Ibuprofen/Aspirin tablets

Extra precautions must be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additional items for first aid kits for this season are:

  • Hand sanitizer or foaming hand wash sanitizers
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Nitrile disposable gloves
  • Disposable face mask
  • CPR face shield

 First Aid Treatments

When providing first aid care, human nature will be to act urgently. However, continue to follow COVID-19 precautions while offering personalized attention.

  • Have the sick or injured person and the caregiver team wear face coverings.
  • Limit bystanders and non-essential responders to six feet distancing. Also, limit the number of persons in direct contact with the sick or injured person.
  • Wash hands before and after treatment.
  • Wear disposable gloves during any contact or treatment. Properly remove and dispose of the gloves.
  • Aftercare has occurred, clean and sanitize the area, and any items that have touched the patient.

Performing CPR

Cardiac emergencies can occur at any time. Being trained in CPR is a valuable skill to help adults, children, and infants during breathing emergencies. Due to the remote locations of agritourism operations, it is advised to immediately call 9-1-1 to start emergency vehicles en route.

  • CPR can be started at any time by trained individuals. Untrained individuals, or those uncomfortable performing CPR on the victim, can start Hands-Only CPR (continuous chest compressions without any mouth to mouth contact). Wear protective gloves.
  • Use a breathing barrier for administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The risk of disease transmission is low when using a CPR face shield.

OSU Extension Bulletin Forthcoming

OSU Extension has prepared a guidance bulletin to help farms develop their plans. The guide is based on publications from the state of Ohio, the CDC, and others. The guide is in the final stage of the approval process and will be available in the coming days. This guide can be used to develop opening plans or update existing plans for agritourism operations.

The guidance bulletin will be posted here on the Ohio Ag Manager website. To watch for updates on the guide, we encourage farms to subscribe to our Ohio Ag Manager Blog at http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu/

Keeping Agritourism Employees Healthy this Season

by: Dee Jepsen, Lisa Pfeifer, Eric Barrett, Rob Leeds, Peggy Hall & Brad Bergefurd 

Agritourism operations need to go above and beyond to plan for safe operations of their farms during the COVID-19 pandemic. The public is looking forward to participating in traditional autumn activities, especially when they know health practices are being followed by the venue.

Employees are a critical piece to any business. When key employees are ‘out sick’, the agritourism activities may be affected or not offered at all. Employers will want to safeguard their small staff during the pandemic to ensure they are providing the necessary protection for their staff, as well as their agritourism guests.

Worker safety starts with good workplace practices.

Start with the basics. All staff should practice the CDC guidelines of washing hands, wearing masks, keeping six feet physical distance, and staying home when sick. Additional precautions include:

  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer for remote locations.
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
  • Use disposable paper towels. There should be no shared towels, including shop rags.
  • Discourage the sharing of any food or beverages.
  • Establish protocols for sanitizing common gathering places like the shop, lunch areas, and office spaces. Cleaning and disinfecting high touch areas, like door handles, phones, 2-way radios, keyboards, light switches, monitors/touchpads, faucets/sinks, and restroom areas.
  • Avoid ride-sharing in company vehicles, when possible.

Schedule employees to work in teams.

Employers should look at the functions of the total operation. Creating workforce teams or ‘pods’ can help ensure an operation minimizes the impacts should a worker become ill or test positive for the coronavirus. Try to schedule these employees to work together without co-mingling the pods. This will reduce the risk of quarantining the entire workforce, in the event, someone within a pod becomes ill or tests positive for the coronavirus.

Levels of risk will differ with different job descriptions. By thinking in advance, it will be possible to make appropriate plans for employee work shifts and have protective mechanisms in place for high exposure areas.

  • Group employees according to their contact with the general public, on-site service providers, or other co-workers. Manage employee schedules without overlapping work crews who work in the different areas of the operation. For example, keep the pick-your-own field staff in separate teams from the employees who handle checkout and re-stocking at the store.
  • You may also consider grouping employees based on their demographics or their personal environments. Do some of your employees face high exposure risks at home because of a spouse’s work setting? Is it possible to group younger workforces together to minimize exposure to senior workers or workers who are caregivers to elderly or susceptible family members?

Establish an employee health reporting system

Create a plan for how daily health checks and reporting illness will be handled. Discuss these procedures with employees. Workers that are experiencing COVID symptoms may be contagious. Follow your local health department requirements by asking sick employees to stay home or self-quarantine from the rest of the farm workforce.

  • Create a health screening assessment questionnaire and have employees take their temperature before reporting to work. Ask employees to stay home if they have any symptoms or temperatures over 100.4⁰F.
  • Encourage employees to reduce out-of-state travel, participation in mass-group events (weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.), and practice recommendations from the state for social distancing in their off-work environments.
  • Send sick employees to get tested as soon as possible to minimize the ‘wait period’ for test results. Treat employees who are feeling sick or waiting for test results the same, and assume they are positive for coronavirus.

 Prepare a business continuity plan.

Have a plan in place to accommodate a reduction in the workforce. If employees are not available to work, identify which activities will be closed or managed differently. When management is not available to work, have a contingency plan for keeping the operation open.

  • Are employees cross-trained to do handle additional tasks?
  • Are keys available to barns and gates and equipment?
  • Do employees have access to all needed information, like passwords to important accounts?

OSU Extension Bulletin Forthcoming

OSU Extension has prepared a guidance bulletin to help farms develop their plans. The guide is based on publications from the state of Ohio, the CDC, and others. The guide is in the final stage of the approval process and will be available in the coming days. This guide can be used to develop opening plans or update existing plans for agritourism operations.

The guidance bulletin will be posted here on the Ohio Ag Manager website. To watch for updates on the guide, we encourage farms to subscribe to our Ohio Ag Manager Blog at http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu/