April 14, 2020

Planting season looks a lot different this year; how do we help growers through it when everything is locked down?

By Nancy Appelquist, Director of Operations 

Pandemic or not, spring planting season is upon us. That means ordering and delivering, loading and unloading. There are a lot of trucks moving, conversations taking place and supplies changing hands.

But this year, all that has to be done within the parameters of social distancing.

True, it’s not hard to keep a safe social distance when your workspace is measured in acreage and not square footage. And it’s also true that as of today, COVID-19 hasn’t spread through rural populations like it has metropolitan areas. But that scenario changes daily. And you don’t want to put anyone at risk of getting sick by letting your guard down prematurely.

As industry professionals in the business of serving growers, how can we be there for our grower-customers while keeping a safe social distance to protect their health?

The consequences of this pandemic are largely beyond our control, but there are things we can be doing and thinking about to keep things moving through this weird new normal.

Prioritize the health and safety of employees and customers

We have a responsibility to keep farmers and front-line ag industry workers safe. Our food supply depends on them. One-third of U.S. growers fall into the over-65 age bracket, smack dab in the danger zone of getting severely ill from coronavirus. Many of their trusted advisors are in that danger zone as well.

The most important thing we can all do right now is adhere to CDC guidelines. I’ve heard it said that we should all assume we have the disease and then see how that changes the way we interact with others. Don’t make excuses just because you feel healthy or because there are no outbreaks in your area. Implement and enforce policies with the parameters of those guidelines, including practicing good hygiene and social distancing. Hire services for additional cleaning and disinfecting at your facilities. And by all means, if anyone feels unwell, make them stay home.

Communicate the new procedures and the precautions you’re taking to keep customers and employees safe. Make alternative communication channels available as stopping by the office may not be possible.

And finally, check on your grower customers. This already is a stressful time of year for growers, not counting a pandemic virus to work around.

All of us must set the right example, follow the rules, and encourage growers to do the same. Remind your employees and customers (and yourself) that this is temporary.

Be flexible and creative to keep business moving

Ag businesses are critical to keeping the chain moving, and they are working hard to be fully operational…albeit with some modifications. Many are working from home or operating with a reduced, rotating staff in the office. Several have gotten product to growers early, thwarting potential disruptions as planting season progresses.

Now is the time to get scrappy—everyone needs to work differently and creatively to accomplish what’s necessary in the safest manner possible.

Take whatever measures are necessary to limit one-on-one interactions to the bare minimum. Here are some of the ways ag businesses are putting social distancing into place:

• Offering curbside services and talking to customers in their vehicles.
• Connecting with customers using the power of technology.
• Accepting verbal agreements and signing tickets on growers’ behalf.
• Suspending ride-alongs to keep everyone safe.

We’ve heard of retailers going so far as to locking main entrances so customers don’t just walk in as they’re accustomed to doing. Some have completely removed visitor seating from the office. This seems harsh for an industry built on relationships and community, but it’s an important measure to keep people safe. It’s absolutely OK to talk to growers face-to-face, as long as the CDC guidance of 6 feet apart is maintained. Better still, talk on the phone or over a video app such as FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. FaceTime on the phone may not be the same as face time in the retail office…but now’s the time to put those communication tools to use.

One of the cruel realities of this pandemic is that millions of people are suddenly out of work—who could you tap to outsource functions that can help keep things moving? Find people you trust who will follow the guidelines and help pick up some of the slack. You would be helping a neighbor in need and keeping your business moving at the same time. 

Be sure to take advantage of the resources available to support your business (so you can in turn support your people). If your business qualifies, now’s the time to apply for Federal relief.

Prepare for every “what if” you can think of

It’s important to address the new realities you’re in right now, but look ahead to what’s coming, too.

Mike Karst shared a story that is the perfect example for how to prepare for worst case scenarios. His brother has a row crop farm in Indiana and is the only one in his operation who knows how to run the planter. So far everyone at home and in his operation is healthy, but he’s scrambling to create a game plan in case he gets sick. It’s hard to train someone when you can’t sit in the cab together; so, they improvised. Mike spent the afternoon in the tool shed with his brother, keeping a safe social distance, walking through the basics of running the planter and what to do if something goes wrong. Not the ideal scenario, but it got the job done. And now they’ll be more ready in case something happens.

If you’re an ag business with mission critical activities, be sure you have a backup plan if someone gets sick. We talked to a retailer in Montana that is keeping part of its staff home to serve as a replacement team ready to go if someone gets sick at one of their locations.

Now is the time to think outside the box and do whatever is needed to keep the chain moving.

As things start to open back up, take it slow. The extreme measures we’ve been taking may be “flattening the curve,” but the virus is still out there. The last thing we want to do is reinstate business travel and open doors to regular foot traffic, only to ignite the spread all over again.

There are lots of ways we can support our growers during this uneasy time.  We just need to think strategically, get creative and have everyone’s health and safety as the top priority.

How are you continuing to serve growers during this challenging time? We’d love to hear from you! Contact Nancy Appelquist at 845.544.1985 or nappelquist@entira.net.

Read more about our perpsective on COVID-19 and agriculture

The ag value chain is dealing with many harsh new realities and many more unknowns yet to come. We have more thoughts on these topics so read on for more!

Restabilizing Our Food Systems in the Wake of COVID-19
What's on the Other Side of COVID-19?

 

In the midst of this global health crisis, we are hunkered down and staying informed like you; but Entira is still open for business. The best we can do for each other and our country is to continue the business of supporting the farmers who feed our nation and the world.