Know resources before coronavirus hits your farm or agribusiness

  • Published: Friday, April 17, 2020

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In the next 60 days, farmers will plant an estimated 10 million acres of crops and tend 2 million cattle, 75,000 milk cows, 3.5 million hogs and 300 million chickens.

It is the busiest time of the year. Experts also predict it is when COVID-19 will peak in Missouri, says Joe Horner, University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist.

Now, more than ever, farmers and agribusiness people need to protect their personal health to ensure the financial health of their operations, Horner says.

“Set the example at work and at home,” he says. “You are essential. Take pride in that.”

Statistics show fewer cases of coronavirus in rural Missouri than in urban areas at this time. However, farmers should assume that it could strike their operation either directly or indirectly. “Plan for sickness and expect disruptions,” Horner says.

The nature of farm life also presents unique risks: Multiple generations and extended family members may serve as part of the farm’s workforce. Don’t let one generation transmit disease to another.

Focus on what you can control, Horner says. This includes:

• Preserve cash to meet cash flow needs. Apply for unemployment if need be. Know your options if an off-farm worker carrying the family’s health care plan is laid off. Know your credit lines. You may need them.

• Add liquidity. Survive to thrive later. Use the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), available through your lender. PPP is open to farmers and the application is simple. Funding is limited, so do not wait until it is too late.

• Anticipate that markets may get chaotic. Processing plants may shut down temporarily to sanitize if workers test positive for the virus. Stay flexible on market timing.

Additionally, you can take measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus:

• Physical distancing. Maintain a physical separation of at least 6 feet. Divide workers and family members into teams that do not mix.

• Succession planning. Make sure your business can run without you. Do the legal paperwork to make clear who is second in charge to write checks, sign papers and make decisions.

• Keep a “closed herd” of people on the farm. Discourage on-site visitors and deliveries. Minimize face-to-face meetings. Disinfect shared areas and equipment.

MU Extension Labor and Workforce Development director Rob Russell recommends reviewing programs that may help businesses and workers during these challenging times. These programs include:

• Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan for up to two times the average monthly payroll costs from the past year plus 25% for additional expenses. These loans cover payroll expenses for eight weeks after the receipt of the loan, as well as select additional expenses. This loan is available through private lenders and can be forgiven under certain conditions.

• Economic Injury Disaster Loans are open to small agribusinesses but not farms. These loans are available through the SBA.

• A number of changes to unemployment insurance might affect your workforce. The waiting period for traditional unemployment benefits is waived. Workers who previously did not qualify for unemployment, such as independent contractors and self-employed individuals, may qualify for relief under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Individuals who are out of work due to the pandemic will need to apply for benefits to determine their eligibility.

For more information, contact Russell at [email protected] or Horner at [email protected], or the MU Extension agribusiness specialist in your region. Visit for a regularly updated collection of COVID-19 resources or for resources specific to small businesses.

Writer: Linda Geist

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