On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a spate of new funding as part of the its ongoing Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. The funding includes $700 million dedicated towards Pandemic Response and Safety Grants for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective measures to help specialty crop growers and others in the agricultural industry. Grants will be aimed at helping reimburse farmers for some of the steep worker protection costs operations incurred over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Implementation of the grant program should begin within the next 60 days, and Western Growers will provide information on the grant process as soon as it becomes available.
A Year Long Effort
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Western Growers and several of its industry allies have repeatedly pressed USDA to provide assistance for growers who have incurred significant expenses to provide for worker safety. Fresh produce operations require the most labor out of any other commodity group, so our members had rapidly build up personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, enhance hygiene and sanitation procedures, install infrastructure like plexiglass and designated employee areas to ensure social distancing, and ramp up worker training to ensure awareness of COVID guidance. Away from the fields and packing houses, growers also made concerted efforts to secure additional housing and transportation to ensure continued social distancing and quarantining options.
As a result of rapid implementation of these measures, that farmers have incurred substantial worker safety costs during 2020 and face additional costs in 2021. In a WG survey conducted earlier this year, we found that on average our farmers spent an additional $586 per worker.