Protecting Farm Worker Health And Planning For The Future

Cornell Cooperative Extension

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program is committed to continuing to support farms in the region as they work daily to provide safe and abundant food for consumers.

While farms and their employees have been deemed essential business and remain in operation, they are not immune to COVID-19. With this in mind, it is important to take the biosecurity approach farms often use for the health of their livestock, and utilize these strategies to protect employee health. By taking several preventative measures, farm managers can help reduce the risk of a health related disruption on the farm.

In a recent article, “Biosecurity for People: 7 Steps to Protect Farm Workers from COVID-19”, by Mary Kate Wheeler, Farm Business Management Specialist with the South Central NY Dairy and Field Crops Team, key considerations for employees were outlined. Wheeler highlights the need to have open communication with farm workers to ensure they understand the symptoms of COVID-19 and how it spreads. Providing this information in their native language can promote comprehension and help make sure employees follow best practices. Additionally, following OSHA guidelines on cleaning and disinfecting at work and in the home may reduce the risk of exposure. Employers should provide an assigned schedule for cleaning as well as approved Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cleaning products. It is also important to limit the amount of contact between employees and with outside service providers. This can be done by maintaining six feet of distance between people, postponing face to face meetings when possible, limiting traffic coming onto the farm, using technology to communicate, or adapting procedures to have only one person working on a task when feasible. Finally, make sure employees are staying home if they feel sick. To prevent employees from feeling financially obligated to come to work, even when sick, you may consider reviewing your farm’s sick leave policy, New York State’s COVID-19 sick leave regulations, and Federal Emergency paid leave policies. Following these guidelines can help protect the health of famers and their employees.

In addition to taking preventative measures, it is important to plan for the future. Should a farm be placed in the unfortunate situation of having owners, operators, employees, or loved ones infected with COVID-19, having a plan in place can help minimize disruption on the farm. When developing a contingency plan there are several areas to consider. First, are all of the farm’s standard operating procedures clearly written and compiled somewhere? While a task may seem basic to the person who does it every day, there may be small details missed or confusion for someone who has not been trained on that task. Having detailed procedures assembled can help someone complete a task. Farms should also consider cross training employees, if possible. Training employees on tasks they don’t typically perform can help them transition should they need to cover the responsibilities of another employee. Finally, farms could consider adding additional labor to cross train or train a neighbor or family member to help fill in as needed. By taking preventative health measures and planning for the worst case scenario, farm owners can create more stability on the farm during these trying times. For additional employee resources, visit the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development website ( or reach out to any of the SWNYDLFC Specialists ( To view the original article written by Mary Kate Wheeler in its entirety, visit

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program specialists are here to help provide research-based resources and support during this challenging time. Their team of four specialists include:

While specialists are working remotely at this time, they are still offering consultations via phone, text, email, videoconferencing, and mail. They are also providing weekly updates with timely resources and connections via email and hardcopy and virtual programming. For more information on this topic, contact Alycia Drwencke, Dairy Management Specialist, at 517-416-0386, or visit their website

The Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program is the newest Cornell Cooperative Extension regional program and covers Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben Counties. The Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops regional specialists work with Cornell faculty and Extension educators to address the issues that influence the agricultural industry in New York by offering educational programming and research based information to agricultural producers, growers, and agribusinesses in the Southwestern New York Region. Cornell Cooperative Extension is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities. For more information about this program, or to be added to their contact list, contact Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Team Leader, at 716-640-0522,, or visit their website

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