Peter Martin: Manage Risk for COVID-19 Disruptions

No one knows the true impact of COVID-19 on farms, but they’re clearly not immune. The outbreak has moved way beyond densely populated areas and is now hitting the countryside.

COVID-19’s presence has already created supply-chain disruptions that have halted or delayed trucking operations, grain deliveries and more. Confirmed infections are rising among residents and workers in rural communities. Employees worry about coming to work, some out of fear of the virus, others because of childcare issues due to school closures.

As the coronavirus outbreak forces changes, producers should view this crisis through a risk-management lens. You should consider how you’ll safeguard your day-to-day operations from the coronavirus and its consequences.

“Every farm owes it to itself to start exploring how you’ll manage the risk of COVID-19,” says K•Coe Isom principal Lance Woodbury. “Don’t be complacent. Planning now will help you respond more quickly if you are impacted.”

Woodbury recommends you create a “what-if scenario,” or Plan B, for navigating potential COVID-19 disruptions. Look at vital areas such as:

  • Management. What would happen if you or a key employee tested positive for COVID-19? Who will oversee your operations, finances, scheduling, etc.?
  • Labor. What if your crew falls ill during harvest? Even if you only have two employees, how will you manage if one gets sick or goes into quarantine?
  • Parts and equipment. Your machinery dealer could face interruptions and shortages, whether from supply chain disruptions or employee absences. How or where will you find replacements?
  • Plant and warehouse closures. What will you do if COVID-19 forces your processor to stop operations?
  • Finances. If you can’t get trucks or a driver to haul your grain or other farm commodity, you could face major cash-flow problems. Do you have another banking relationship other than your regular lender who could supply you with capital to keep your operation going?
  • Health and safety. How can you safely and legally protect the health of all who come to your farm? Will you provide personal protective equipment? Take temperatures? Sanitize workspaces?

COVID-19 has shaken confidence in the economy. Businesses have closed and millions of U.S. jobs are gone. Take note. Consider this an opportunity to learn from what’s happened elsewhere and find ways to control your own risks. A COVID-19 readiness plan can prepare your business to survive and thrive.