As Covid-19 continues to affect all aspects of life, farmers and contractors are continuing to prepare ground ahead of spring drilling and planting regimes.
As a result, servicing and maintenance of machinery is also ongoing, prompting to the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) and a number of dealerships to release protocols on the interactions between employees and customers.
Clearly, the government advice to work from home where possible is not feasible for most agricultural workers. However, the NAAC says agricultural contractors have a dual role in this crisis to keep all staff and customers safe, while supporting and providing vital operations to farmers and land managers in the essential provision of food for the nation.
It advises following all government advice regarding hygiene and social distancing, but stresses that with many lines of communication available to most contractors and farms, the need for face to face meetings is negligible. Instead, it says calling ahead of farm visits and the use of technologies such as WhatsApp to drop pins in fields that need attention should be used. Likewise transferring crop maps and dose prescriptions should be done wirelessly where possible.
The organisation also says that both parties should assure each other that extra precautions such as frequent handwashing, using sanitiser and other provisions have been put in place, and that all staff are briefed on the latest government guidelines. As a matter of courtesy, both parties should also make aware of any of their family or staff who have contracted the virus or who are self-isolating due to a risk. This will ensure that all parties respect social distance and do not unwittingly put anyone at unnecessary risk, it says.
From a dealer perspective, many have said that the outbreak and subsequent issues regarding social distancing and hygiene precautions are adding time to already tight schedules as farmers and contractors gear up for the season.
However, they are also registering increased demands for parts and servicing in anticipation of a full-scale lockdown.
Kubota and Kverneland dealer Battlefield Machinery says the parts department has been exceptionally busy, with the recent break in weather prompting a flurry of activity in the field. The company has started a parts delivery service in order to limit the amount of people coming to the depot.
This has proved very popular it says, freeing up time for farmers to work in the field. While its depot has not formally shut, the door is, except for urgent matters. A collection point has been set up outside for urgent parts to be collected.
John Deere dealership Farol says while mechanical breakdowns are still dealt with in much the same way as before, it is only sending out one technician to ensure the two-person rule is adhered to. Its staff have been given a full briefing on hygiene and carry hand sanitiser to use before, during and after the visit. Likewise, disinfecting wipes are carried to wipe down contact points such as door handles and steering wheels.
From a technology point of view, the company says it is making more use of remote display access through JD Link for diagnostics and tutorials rather than instructing from inside the cab. The company has also advised its customers to use its eBay store for common parts like filters, with overnight delivery. It is also doing daily parts runs in the local areas around each of its five depots, once enough parts orders have been accumulated.