Whether your farm workforce consists of hired labor, family members, or a combination of both, COVID-19 has the potential to create major challenges as you attempt to keep your operation running smoothly.
Now is the time to build a plan should any of your employees, key team leaders, or you yourself fall ill. Start by developing a list of all the critical tasks on the farm. Prioritize your list into the “must haves”, “nice to haves”, and the “can wait, for nows”. These guidelines with example templates for dairy operating plan and a crops/planting plan can help as you develop your own plans.
Focus first on the “must haves” and think about who is performing that job today and who you have on your team that could serve as a back-up. It may be helpful to brainstorm this with other leaders or the employees doing that job on your farm. Try to think outside-the-box of what an employee does for you today, and focus on what they could do, maybe with a little coaching or guidance. Are there employees on your team who could handle more of a leadership role? Are there employees who could be cross-trained, including safety practices, into another role? Now might be a great time to consider your team’s “bench” before you’re forced to or someone else is because you are ill.
Think about the way your workers do their work. Are they practicing social distancing? Could you organize your workforce into smaller teams to limit exposure? Smaller teams with less interaction between teams could limit the impact of the virus if one person comes to work infected before they show symptoms. Is there work that could be done by an individual instead of by groups? Even if things take a little longer, it may be the best approach to keep workers a safe distance from each other.
Think about the tasks on your farm that currently involve close human interactions. Are there ways to do that work differently? Can you stagger breaks and lunches? Yes, your employees may miss out on some camaraderie but will thank you in the long run. Could group texting or virtual meetings be a way to limit close contact?
Consider the next several weeks to few months on your farm. Beyond the day-to-day operations, what are some other critical tasks on the horizon? Fieldwork, planting crops, first crop hay, what work lies ahead this spring? Could some work be done by custom operators if a portion of your team is ill or off work caring for ailing family members? Or what if custom operators can’t make it to work because they have staffing shortages?
Next, develop a plan for sourcing additional workers, if necessary. Brainstorm with your team who they know who could potentially help out on the farm, if needed. With the premise of “good people know good people” leverage your talented employees with ideas they may have for workers who may have an interest in working on your farm and could help out in a pinch.
COVID 19 has already created upheaval in our nation’s workforce, as companies are forced into layoffs, downsizings, and closures. Displaced workers will typically start their search for a new position with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, workforce development system. Contacting your area Job Center with your vacancies is a great way to connect with available workers. To find the closest job center, view this list by region. Also, Wisconsin Job Centers are the first point of contact when area businesses are forced to close or have significant layoffs, making them well aware of workers looking for work. Workforce development programs can offer opportunities for employees new to an industry as well.
Area employment agencies may have candidates ready and available to fill your openings- full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary. You’ll pay more per hour by going through an agency as their bill rate is built into the hourly wage, but this “try before you buy” method lets you have a working interview before bringing someone on to your team permanently. Also, the possibility of having someone start immediately may be worth the added expense if critical tasks are potentially going undone.
Lastly, think about the example you are setting for your team. Your employees will look to you for how serious to take this situation Stay positive and set the tone for the importance of building a plan and for how quickly your farm can recover. Take this opportunity to let your team know that you care about their health, their families’ health, and the continued operation of their place of employment.