An image commonly seen today throughout the world as a response to COVID-19, April 2020 (Photo: shutterstock.com).
While we adapt to the new social norms that have been adopted by leaders around the world to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, it is imperative to also understand how essential services, such as farming, are affected by these changes.
At the farm level, the pandemic has added to the already complex nature of the agricultural industry. Farming is a physically laborious job with many risks and occupational hazards involved, such the dangers associated from the use of heavy machinery, exposure to various chemicals, and working long hours of intense physical activity in varying weather conditions. The industry also relies heavily on an external workforce; approximately 20,000 of Ontario’s highly specialized field and greenhouse workers are migrants who travel to the province specifically for the duration of the growing season.
As well as considering the logistics of ensuring these important individuals can safely travel to Canada, farm operators must also enact new protocols to keep them safe and healthy once they arrive. Living quarters and field practices have to be reconfigured to ensure proper physical distancing, for example, and operators must assess their varying needs for personal protective equipment. Operators also have to develop a plan to safely and efficiency enact the self-isolation measures that need to be taken when the workers first arrive, and, if they were to fall ill with the virus while working. Management strategies are being developed and improved in real time to ensure the safety measures put forward by the government are being met, while, at the same time, still maintaining the province’s food supply chain. Having to juggle the task of completing the same amount of work with fewer individuals and less interaction between farm personal is a challenge not to be taken lightly.
Similar activities are also unfolding in the research sector, particularly for projects and programs involving agriculture and field work. Research is an important component of all essential services, as well for the guidelines that are developed during times of crisis. Without research, agricultural activities or policy decisions risk being uninformed or, at worst, counterproductive and detrimental. Agricultural research is also a long process as countless variables must be taken into consideration, like annual changes in weather patterns and changes in pests or seed varieties. With the added complexity of COVID-19 and social distancing, both the 2020 growing season and the research taking place to support it have been challenging. As part of the Organic Cluster, we have been working tirelessly with our granting agency, farm operators and Brock University to ensure that research can continue in the safest way possible during these challenging times, while continuing to obtain data that are essential to our understanding of vineyard ecology and production.
This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!