COVID-19: Farm Leadership Must Persevere to Victory

Katelyn Walley, Business Management Specialist and Team Leader
Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program

May 14, 2020
COVID-19: Farm Leadership Must Persevere to Victory

"Never give in. Never, never, never." - Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1940-1945. Listen to the whole speech here: Photo of Winston Churchill giving his victory signhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5q19HiNHSg

On October 29, 1941, Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and the Netherlands had all fallen to the Nazis under the terrifying leadership of Adolph Hitler. The United States would not enter World War II until December of 1941, and so, Great Britain stood alone in the West, resisting the Nazi onslaught against the free world and resolving to fight on. The leadership of Winston Churchill was instrumental in preserving and strengthening the will of the British people to fight through those dark days and survive against what seemed insurmountable odds.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been likened to a war. The enemy is the novel coronavirus and it is a powerful, deceptive, and patient foe. We know how to fight it, we must deprive it of opportunities to spread and infect more victims. The CDC , the NY Department of Health, Cornell, and others have given us the training we need. NYS Ag and Markets and Cornell Cooperative Extension are distributing weapons across the state in the form of hand sanitizer and face coverings for the agricultural workforce. But, like WWII, this fight against COVID-19 will require leadership to help our people stay the course and fight on with perseverance and faith in our eventual victory.

Now is not the time to relax or let up in our efforts to combat COVID-19. While the rate of infection is declining overall in New York the virus is advancing in rural communities, including a recent attack at a large, upstate greenhouse. As I write this post, New York is making plans for a phased re-opening of business and the seasonal agricultural workforce is increasing in number to meet the needs of the vegetable and fruit growing season, conditions are ripe for coronavirus to spread in the farm workforce. Now is the time for farm managers to step up to leadership with gritty resolve and perseverance. "Never give in. Never, never, never." as Mr. Churchill put it.

Perseverance in the war against COVID-19 means farm managers must:

  1. Lead your team and reinforce the need to be vigilant and keep up good sanitation and social distancing practices. Communicate and re-communicate the value of prevention. People are growing tired of these burdensome new activities but leaders need to rally the troops for the good of everyone!
  2. Provide the needed tools. Face coverings, cleaning solutions, brushes, buckets, mops, hand sanitizers, are the tools needed for this fight. Businesses need to provide these for employees to use in the workplace and at farm-provided housing facilities.
  3. Develop the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for preventing COVID-19. Build simple and repeatable instructions to ensure that needed procedures are done right consistently. Link to CDC and OSHA recommendations for business.
  4. Train employees in how to use SOP's and tools. For permanent employees, now is the time to provide some re-training to reinforce what they learned already and eliminate any confusion or procedural drift. Our seasonal employees continue to arrive, this means that farm managers will have to train and re-train repeatedly as new recruits arrive at the farm. Make training for COVID-19 prevention tasks part of your employee onboarding and a key part of a manager's job.
  5. Assign cleaning details. Volunteerism is great but the fight against COVID-19 is too important to not lead assertively. Use your leadership authority and assign important tasks to individuals as part of their work. Assign cleaning in farm-provided housing also.
  6. Manage for compliance with measurement, feedback and reinforcement. COVID-19 prevention tasks like cleaning and wearing face coverings are critical and it's up to managers to see that they happen. Use tools like checklists and sign-off sheets for employees to indicate when tasks are completed, and spend time in the workplace observing the work being done. Give feedback, positive and re-directive as needed, to encourage employees and keep everyone on track.

And finally, leaders must model the behaviors they want in their followers. If you, as a farm manager, take shortcuts or flout the COVID-19 prevention rules, then your employees will surely do the same, and the enemy will find an opportunity. Your actions speak louder than your words so model the grit, determination, and most of all, perseverance, that it will take for us to "win through to absolute victory" over COVID-19.

Cornell Ag Workforce Development resources to fight COVID-19.

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By Richard Stup, Cornell University. Permission granted to repost, quote, and reprint with author attribution.
The post COVID-19: Farm Leadership Must Persevere to Victory appeared first in The Ag Workforce Journal 




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