More than 160 ag organizations signed a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force
By Diego Flammini
A coalition of farm and food groups is asking the White House to provide more COVID-19 protections for farm workers.
More than 160 organizations collectively contacted Vice-President Mike Pence, chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, asking the federal government to step in to ensure the safety of people employed in the ag sector.
“Farmers are proud to serve on the frontlines with our employees protecting our nation’s food and fiber supply, but we have not been immune to the crippling effects of the pandemic,” the Sept. 24 letter reads. “Loss of markets, supply chain logistics, price volatility, and workplace safety are just some of the challenges our industry has faced this year.”
Signatories on the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Milk Producers Federation and the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE).
The groups have outlined multiple requests that would help farm workers comply with COVID-19 protocols and keep them safe in the future.
One item they want addressed is accommodations and transportation.
Some farm workers typically stay in hotels and travel to and from the farm together on buses. But more of that kind of infrastructure is needed to ensure proper physical distancing, said Michael Marsh, president and CEO of NCAE.
“Hotels and motels aren’t always available in rural communities,” he told Farms.com. “And if you want to keep everyone separated, you need more beds and more rooms. And instead of using only one bus to bring the workers to the farm, now you need two so they can do physical distancing. We’re hoping to receive permission to use RVs or trailers to accommodate the workers to help everyone stay safe and also cut down on some costs.”
In addition, the groups would like to see ag workers be among the first ones to receive a vaccine.
These important people help ensure crops are harvested and American families are fed. They need to be taken care of, Marsh said.
“There’s no question they’re essential workers,” he said. “Imagine if grocery store shelves were empty because they couldn’t work. It would be devastating. They are crucial to our national security and that needs to be taken into consideration when a vaccine does become available.”
Farms.com has reached out to other industry groups for comment.