Monday, 30 November 2020

Farm groups seek more rural resources to respond to COVID-19

A coalition of more than 160 agricultural organizations from across the nation has asked the White House Coronavirus Task Force to take additional measures to promote the health and safety of farm employees and rural communities.

In a letter addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the task force, the farm groups stressed that the nation’s food security “depends on a safe working environment for frontline agricultural employees.”

The organizations said farmers have done their best to assure safety by instituting best practices including social distancing, enhanced hygiene and sanitation procedures, employee training and use of personal protective equipment.

But given a “broad strain” on availability of such personal protective equipment, testing and other resources, the groups said, the White House Task Force could help by:

– Permitting use of alternate housing, such as FEMA trailers or RVs, to allow greater social distancing for employees who may need to quarantine or isolate due to exposure to COVID-19.
– Ensuring COVID-19 testing resources are available to agricultural employers and employees, and that test results are made available promptly.
– Increasing availability of Commodity Credit Corporation funds to help farmers offset the cost of pandemic-related expenses such as housing, transportation, workplace retrofitting, testing, training and others.
– Prioritizing distribution of personal protective equipment and any future vaccine to the food and fiber supply chain, due to the essential role of agriculture in assuring health for people in the U.S.
– Coordinating efforts among government agencies and community organizations to reduce the risk of exposure outside of occupational settings in rural communities.

The letter was organized by the Agricultural Workforce Coalition and signed by 167 organizations including the American Farm Bureau Federation; California Farm Bureau Federation and 20 other state Farm Bureaus; 14 county Farm Bureaus from California; and 18 additional California-based commodity groups and cooperatives.

“The availability of personal protective equipment for farm employees has been a top priority for Farm Bureau throughout the pandemic—even more so due to wildfires that have reduced air quality throughout the West,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “We hope Vice President Pence, Agriculture Secretary Perdue and other members of the White House task force will give this request their immediate attention.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 34,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.

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