The United States is nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disease has changed both social and societal norms across the country. Within agriculture it has caused economic and mental hardship, but it has also left its mark on labor practices . . . particularly on dairy farms.

“I think that COVID-19 has opened people’s eyes to the risk that is related to some of these things. Experiences like this tend to stick with people for a long time,” said Cornell’s Chris Wolf during the February 3 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream. “I think there’s a real possibility that people will change the way they approach employee health and managing the risks around employees.”

Those changes have manifested themselves on-farm, both in employee protocols and human resource management.

On-farm practices
On Philip Verway Farms in Tulare County, dairy farm manager Frank Cardoza made specific changes to his employees’ break periods and equipment to address concerns surrounding COVID-19. “An example is my time clock, which our employees use their hands to punch in and out,” he shared. “I’m looking at facial recognition or something like that to get away from the possibility of contaminating the hand clock.”

That cautious perspective extended to the break room at his dairy where employees are limited to four persons inside at a time. Cardoza intends to keep these limits in place beyond the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to limit the spread of all diseases, including the common cold and flus.

Sick time may be forever changed
Beyond on-farm protocol changes are a number of shifts that have occurred in the way we look at working through sickness. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension specialist Richard Stup, many farms have changed their protocols related to sick time.

“The reality is that in the past if people had a cold or snuffle, it didn’t keep them from coming to work. People came to work unless they were truly, really sick and flat on their backs. I think that was one of the first things employers had to rethink because of COVID-19,” he explained.

“New York passed mandatory sick leave for all employers, and I think that will probably extend to other states,” he continued. “Sick leave will remain, and the culture of the farms is going to change such that if you’re sick, stay home; we don’t really need you to bring that infection and get everyone else sick.”

An ongoing series of events
The next broadcast, “How we’re evaluating farm loans these days,” will air on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
February 4, 2021
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