Commentary: New survey adds to efforts to help farms in pandemic

Issue Date: July 22, 2020
By Bryan Little
Bryan Little
As food production continues through the pandemic, the California Farm Bureau Federation is conducting another voluntary survey to learn how California farmers, ranchers and their employees are coping.
Photo/Richard Green

As harvest season peaks in the next few weeks, California farmers, ranchers and their employees will face unprecedented challenges and unprecedented scrutiny.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone's lives. In the essential business of producing food and farm products, employers have added new layers to the health and safety precautions they already take, by implementing social-distancing rules, providing hand sanitizer, more face coverings and hand-washing stations, adjusting employee transportation when provided, and other actions.

Farm Bureau wants to learn as much as possible about how family farmers and ranchers are coping with the pandemic—one reason we're conducting a follow-up survey on COVID-19 impacts. The voluntary survey may be found on the CFBF website at www.cfbf.com/industry-resource.

Through survey responses, we'll gather additional information about whether farmers and ranchers have been able to acquire enough personal protective equipment for their employees; if COVID-19 testing is available in their communities; how the pandemic has affected farmers, ranchers and their customers; whether loss of farm and off-farm income has led to layoffs or other impacts; and more.

Our first COVID-19 survey, conducted this spring, found more than half of the responding farmers said they had lost customers or sales, and nearly half said they or someone in their immediate family had lost off-farm income. The follow-up survey will help the California Farm Bureau Federation and county Farm Bureaus continue to advocate at local, state and federal levels to be sure farmers, ranchers and their employees have the resources they need to continue growing and harvesting food and farm products.

Since the start of the pandemic, CFBF, county Farm Bureaus and the Farm Employers Labor Service have shared extensive resources with individual farmers and ranchers, including information and links to relevant, helpful health and safety recommendations, webinars and other communications. We have collected and updated information on the CFBF and FELS websites, and we frequently send updated information to Farm Bureau members and FELS subscribers.

As part of my responsibilities with Farm Bureau and FELS, I counsel farm employers on how to keep up and comply with new and frequently changing rules and recommendations on COVID-19 safety. On any given day, I may respond to five or 10 calls from farm employers, addressing various questions related to COVID-19—above and beyond the questions I receive related to overtime, meal and rest periods, piece-rate compensation and other employment regulations.

From those calls and my career working with farm employers, it's clear they prioritize the safety and well-being of their employees, themselves and their families. There's a lot of information coming at them from a lot of sources, and we at Farm Bureau and FELS try to help farm employers prioritize and focus their efforts for the most effective response to the pandemic.

Throughout all this, farm employers also recognize they're in the spotlight. From the start of the pandemic, media stories have focused on farm employee health and safety. More recently, both the state attorney general's office and Cal/OSHA, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, have made clear they are paying attention to the situation.

While farmers and ranchers do all they can to keep their employees healthy and safe at work, we are also emphasizing the need for everyone to maintain COVID-19 precautions during their off-work time, as well.

Earlier this month, CFBF began airing public-service announcements on Spanish-language radio stations around California, urging people to be as safe in their everyday lives as they are on the job: Wear a mask when in public; carry and use hand sanitizer; and avoid large family gatherings, especially parties, in order to maintain social distancing.

Both Spanish and English versions of the announcements can be found on the CFBF Coronavirus Farm and Ranch Resource page at www.cfbf.com/covid-19-information/. The Spanish-language announcements are the second set of COVID-19 safety announcements we've broadcast, supplementing an earlier set in April that reached hundreds of thousands of people via radio and social media.

Family farmers and ranchers can be valuable resources in communicating COVID-19 safety messages to their employees. We hope local, state and federal agencies will see farmers and ranchers as allies in a joint effort to maintain health and safety.

(Bryan Little is director of employment policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service. He may be contacted at blittle@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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