By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU
Harvest season is arriving in many countries that are embattled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Fruits, berries and many green leaf vegetables have a small window of opportunity to be picked, and they reportedly need to be picked by hand. That hand, Bloomberg reports, is more likely than not the hand of a migrant worker, one who also more likely than not will reportedly be exposed to COVID-19 multiple times during the season.
Bloomberg explains that the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, the UK and Russia, for example, all depend on labor from migrant workers who reside in different countries, such as Latin America, Jamaica, and North Africa, to harvest and plant crops. The U.S. alone reportedly relies on about 500,000 seasonal migrant workers at harvest season, which started in May. Migrant workers reportedly often travel for long, crowded distances and typically reside temporarily in tight quarters. Such conditions can spell trouble for avoiding the coronavirus. In addition, the article notes that they may work on several farms in different states as the months progress, thus increasing the chance of spreading the virus.
Per the article, extreme situations have already arisen, such as one farm in Tennessee where all 200 workers tested positive for COVID-19. Across the country, the article points to another hot spot:
Washington state’s Yakima County, an agricultural area that produces apples, cherries, pears and most of the nation’s hops, has the highest per capita infection rate of any county on the West Coast.
The welfare of these workers may be of particular concern given that many may not speak the local language, which can further complicate getting access to healthcare. To address this concern, for example, the aforementioned Tennessee farm is offering free healthcare to workers; also, an industry association in Florida is reportedly encouraging increasing safety protections, such as providing masks and hand sanitizers, and staggering worker's time schedules to reduce crowding.
Experts reportedly believe that if many farm workers fall ill with COVID-19, there could be significant supply chain impact, effectively reducing the supply of certain fruits and vegetables. However, the article notes that such reduction may not immediately lead to increased prices since many restaurants are still closed, thus keeping the demand low.
Lastly, Bloomberg adds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop safety protocols for farms.