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Coronavirus - farmers aren’t so isolated!

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Posted by Joel Woolf on 23 March 2020

Many in agriculture will be looking on self-isolation as more of a way of life than an active change.  Many can go days or weeks without seeing anyone other than their families, employees and regular callers at the farm, such as the feed lorry driver.

For farmers though, whilst their normal isolation from the hurley burley of the city may seem to be a godsend at the moment, it potentially presents some real challenges. Now is the time for farmers to take stock and assess what measures they can take to protect their business, their families and themselves.

  • Personal health: the older you are the harder the virus appears to hit. The average age of farmers is in the high fifties to sixties.  It is common place to have much older relatives around too.  Therefore, take care and assess how you will continue to husband your livestock if you become too ill to work.
  • Employees: if employees fall ill, they will not be able to come to work and relief workers may not be available or may be too expensive. For key personnel do you have key man insurance which can assist with the financial cost, and will it cover you in these circumstances? 
  • Health & Safety:  You may have to resort to inexperienced new staff and or have children around on the farm who are home form school.  Make sure that your health & safety is up to scratch.  Are new workers properly trained and have appropriate PPE.  Make sure you risk assess working practices and that these are adhered to.  Do you have procedures in place in case of accidents and if people are lone working, are they safe?  Consider making sure employees have access to apps such as What Three Words which can geo locate them more effectively than GPS.  Can employees adhere to social distancing rules or what can you do to make sure that they remain safe?
  • Travel:  There may be requirements for employees to travel.  Make sure that you understand what they can and cannot do and ensure that they have any appropriate paper work (you can download our draft letter for this purpose here).
  • Do you understand how your supply chain works? Understand the contracts to which you are a party.  Is the contract written down; does it contain clauses that might come into play in the current circumstances? Is there anything that you can do to ensure you are prepared if they do and can you open a dialogue with the other side to mitigate any risks together?
  • What happens if there is no driver to deliver the animal feed, or other important supplies, or to collect the milk? What happens if the markets are closed for a period of time and you cannot move finished animals to sale or slaughter?  As many who have gone down with bTB know, dealing with the extra housing and feed costs of having animals on the holding for much longer than anticipated can be crippling.  Talk to the other businesses involved and find out what they are doing; has the milk buyer worked out how will they collect the milk?
  • Can you sensibly get some extra stocks in just in case? For instance, if the diesel tank is half full now, is it worth getting it topped up just in case?  The cost of buying anything forward needs to be considered carefully though.  What will you do if you cannot get something like diesel because there are insufficient drivers or too high a demand to arrange a delivery? haulier?  It is important to think well ahead at the moment so rather than leave it to chance use a wall planner, diary or virtual assistant to keep track.
  • Records:  Records are going to be vital.  In the current situation the chance of accident or other issue arising is more or less certain.  Good record keeping and also keeping a diary at the and of each day as to what has happened could be a boon when it comes to trying to sort out something like an HSE investigation.  It will also help to show where you might be able to be more efficient or where there is an operating risk that can be reduced. 
  • Talk to your advisers and contractors and understand what processes they are putting in place in case they are interrupted. If you depend on an agronomy or other service, do they understand what they may or may not be able to do and have they thought about what will happen if they cannot perform their obligations under their contract with you?
  • Being aware of mental health is also going to be important. Stress has a negative effect on decision-making.   If the virus progresses as many anticipate, the macro-economic impact is going to be far reaching.  There are many charities out there to help, and speak to, but more importantly do watch out for neighbours and family members.
  • Take advice and do not assume that it is somebody else’s problem. If you don’t understand something, ask a professional.  Cash flow can be tight but investing in proper advice can be money well spent if it means the difference between survival or not.    

For many, much of the above requires similar considerations as the anticipated friction on trade around Brexit.  The added vector here is the impact on physical health.  It is impossible to know precisely what will happen and of course no plan survives contact with the enemy.  At least if you have a plan you start from a position of understanding rather than panic.

Tags: Agriculture

About the author

Joel Woolf


Joel advises estates and farmers in relation to strategic business planning including business continuity and succession issues, and share and contract farming issues.

Joel Woolf

Joel advises estates and farmers in relation to strategic business planning including business continuity and succession issues, and share and contract farming issues.

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