virus farmers

Van Albert, left, and Bill Walsh work on a planter owned by Chris Hausman on Thursday, April 2, 2020, at Hausman's farm in rural Pesotum. 'I told my kids I've seen a lot of things in my years, but I've never seen anything like this,' Walsh said. 'When you can't buy toilet paper and the Catholic Church closes down, that's something else.'

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PESOTUM — Farmers probably have less trouble keeping their social distance, but they’re still worried about coronavirus.

“We’re all trying to plan accordingly,” said Chris Hausman, who farms near Pesotum. “I’ve been staying close to the farmstead.”

On Thursday, a mechanic from Jennings Implement Company in Bement was working on Hausman’s planter to get it ready for this year’s crop.

“We’re definitely going to practice social distancing,” Hausman said. “I’m not going to be climbing in the cab with the mechanic as he’s in there working.”

While farmers naturally are spread farther apart, they tend to be older and thus more at-risk of COVID-19 complications. They also rely on just a few employees, so it’s important that each one is healthy during the short stretch of planting.

“I’ve reached out to my part-time help and have encouraged them to also be vigilant and be careful,” Hausman said, so that “in a couple weeks when we get the opportunity to get into the fields, they’re healthy and ready to go.”

Planting is still a few weeks away, so right now many farmers are working on their equipment.

“It’s more in the preparation of doing the things you have to do today to guarantee that you’re going to be able to work in two weeks or ten days or whenever Mother Nature decides,” Hausman said.

He recently picked up parts for his equipment and instead of stopping in and chatting with the employees, his parts were waiting outside.

“The parts were set outside the door outside the dealership, which I appreciated them doing that,” he said. “They had a sign that said if we needed any other help just to call. So they’re also trying to do their part.”

Once farmers are able to get in the fields, Hausman said they should be able to keep their distance.

“The beauty of farming is that most operators are going to be isolated anyways,” Hausman said. “We’re going to be in the cabs of fertilizer spreaders and planters. From that perspective, it’s very doable.”

At AHW, a John Deere dealer in Urbana, store manager John Tate said they’ve taken several steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“For the regular customers, we put the parts outside on shelves,” he said. “For the customers that don’t have an account, we have to go out and make change.”

They also wipe down high-traffic areas multiple times a day and have locked the showroom.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” Tate said. But “the crop has to go in when it needs to go in, so they have to be ready.”

Mark Pflugmacher, who farms in northern Champaign County, also said that getting parts can take a few extra steps.

“Some dealerships have closed their doors to the public, so you have to call ahead or do it over the internet,” he said.

And Dirk Rice, who farms near Philo, said the coronavirus has helped highlight the lack of broadband internet in many rural areas.

He’s on the Illinois Corn marketing board and has been attending virtual meetings.

It’s “dragging a bunch of old farmers kicking and screaming into 2020,” Rice said. But “one issue this has really brought to light is that rural internet access is really behind.

“I’m having to do these meetings on my phone because it’s the only thing I can keep a good connection on.”

Farm bureau's mask request making a difference

When the Champaign County Farm Bureau asked for masks to donate to local hospitals, farmers delivered.

So for, about 475 masks of all types have been donated, with the majority being N95 masks, assistant manager Bailey Edenburn said.

“It’s nice to see the community stepping up to help our health care workers,” she said.

Farmers tend to have N95 masks because those are recommended when cleaning grain bins, for example.

The farm bureau also received 100 N95 masks from Illini FS, which uses them for chemical mixing, Edenburn said.

They started collecting masks two weeks ago when they encouraged farmers to drop off masks at the farm bureau’s office in Champaign.

Donations can still be made, said Edenburn, who is going to people’s porches to pick up masks.

“We can set a time to leave them on your porch, and I’ll pick them up,” said Edenburn, who can be contacted on the Champaign County Farm Bureau’s social media pages. “It’s just another example of folks stepping up.”