Tips for Plant Growers to Minimize COVID-19 Impact

Introduction COVID-19 has impacted agriculture throughout the world by affecting labor availability, consumer demand, trade deals, supply chains, and limiting necessary cultural practices. It has also disrupted  plant and plant products markets and created financial issues for growers.The greenhouse and nursery sectors  have also been impaired by the pandemic. In this fact sheet we will summarize different approaches for plant growers which may help them in minimizing COVID-19 impacts.
 
Sanitation and Disinfection Strategies The good health of you and your workers is of the utmost importance. Strictly follow good hygiene practices and be sure your employees are trained in them. In addition, growers should also adopt necessary sanitation procedures (see below). Growers should follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for the cleaning and sanitizing of their facilities and workplaces. Recently, EPA has issued a list (list-N) of more than 300 chemicals which meet the EPA criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19 . In this list you will find the EPA registration number of the product, active ingredient, product name, disinfection and preparation directions, and contact time.  
 
Cleaning of your facility and workplace is an important step prior to disinfectant application. Cleaning includes removal of all unhealthy and unwanted plants, plant debris, and weeds as well as dirt and fungi from surfaces. Also make sure all surfaces and irrigation lines are free of any kind of algae. Cleaning is done by using soap, detergent or another cleaning product and water, followed by physically scrubbing to remove dirt and contaminants from the surface, then rinsing with clean water. It is important to remember that cleaning  removes visible dirt and debris. Before you can sanitize or disinfect effectively, the dirt and debris must be removed by cleaning followed by rinsing.
 
For effective sanitation and disinfection consider the following points:
•  Set up regular weekly and daily schedules with assigned responsibility and follow the EPA guideance for cleaning and disinfecting.
•  Ensure the availability of cleaning supplies like buckets, mops, brushes, etc.
•  Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for using disinfectants on high touch surfaces according to the EPA directions.
•  The most important thing - these products are approved for use on surfaces only, but not for humans. Always wear gloves and other appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when using these products.
 
•  While using the EPA-approved surface disinfectant, strictly follow the label directions for efficient, effective and safe use, as well as all relevant state and local laws. •  Make sure to follow the contact time mentioned on the label. Contact time can be 15 seconds to 15 minutes depending upon the product type. It’s the time during which treated surface must stay wet.
•  Never mix two different disinfectants unless it is directed by the manufacturer or label.  
 
Farm planning for COVID-19  
 
Precautions to take before COVID-19 arrives:
•  Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic.
•  Make sure good respiratory hygiene practices are in use.
•  Face-to-face contact should be reduced as much as possible.
•  Display hand sanitizers at different places on your farm.
•  Allocate remote working responsibilities to vulnerable employees. •  Prioritize all operations and activities.
•  Identify a backup person in case the main supervisor or lead grower gets sick.
 Develop a suitable communication plan between you and your staff during remote working.
•  Maintain proper social distancing and mask use guidelines.
 
What to do if infection arrives at your farm: (If you or your staff get sick follow these CDC guidelines.)   •  Follow your remote working plan.
•  Allocate the responsibilities to the next healthy staff member.
•  Separate the sick person and send him/her back home immediately.
•  If the infected employee has on-farm housing, then consider the possible impact on other employees in the housing.
•  Isolate the employee from others and make all necessary arrangements for food, care and hospitalization.
•  Sell your plants while using appropriate social distancing methods and for further detaills  see this UNH Extension resource.
 
On farm communication methods:
•  Group text
•  Free three-way calling (Apple & Android phones)
•  Free conference call lines e.g. Go To Meeting
•  Cloud-stored documents that can be updated in real time e.g. GoogleDocs
•  Private Facebook Groups, WhatsApp, etc.
 
Ways to sell plants by maintaining physical social distancing:     
                                    •  Deliver to customers
•  Online phone/web orders for pickup
•  Limiting specified number of customers at farm, nursery, or other point of sale location.
•  Individual appointments
 
Online payment methods:
•  Traditional credit card processing
•  Square
•  Paypal
•  Stripe
•  Beyond
•  Venmo
•  Mobile wallets (Google Pay, Apple Pay)