Important information for agriculture related to the COVID-19 pandemic was issued from numerous sources this week. A brief summary of some of the information follows.
Ray Royce, executive director of Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, addressed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order that went into effect at midnight on April 2.
“All agricultural and agricultural support activities are considered essential services and are not subject to the provisions of the order,” Royce stated. He did suggest growers may want to provide employees with printed “travel documents” just in case “they are asked why they are ‘out and about.’” The travel documents list employees’ and their companies’ names and declare they are providing essential services under the governor’s order.
Royce also recommended providing employees with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html.
Multi-county Extension agent Juanita Popenoe provided growers with information that could help them comply with several federal actions regarding COVID-19.
Popenoe noted that new posters in Spanish and English regarding Employee Rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act are to be posted for workers immediately and through Dec. 31.
Popenoe stated that the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act will be in effect April 2 through Dec. 31 and apply to employers with 500 employees or fewer. “Therefore, it applies to almost all farmers,” Popenoe wrote. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act requires employers to provide paid sick leave if an employee is unable to work or telework.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs related to COVID-19 “include a number of small business provisions designed to help farmers stay in business and take care of their employees during this difficult time,” Popenoe stated. “These include provisions that allow farmers to work with their trusted farm credit institutions for the purposes of securing payroll tax loans, along with 1-year deferrals, 100 percent guarantees and low rates.”
“Whatever comes from the USDA generally requires evidence of loss,” Popenoe continued. “Please take this time to track and compile losses due to COVID-19, comparative to sales during the same time frame last year.”
Popenoe also provided an H-2 visa update, noting that USDA has been working with other federal agencies to limit the disruption to the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19.
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