COVID-19 & Maine Agriculture FAQ

Got questions about COVID-19 and Maine agriculture? Ask our experts!

If you have a question, you are welcome to:

Answers to selected questions are posted below.

Production

Q: Can I still get my soil sample analyzed? (3/30/2020)
A: Yes, the UMaine Analytical Lab is open, but is encouraging folks to mail samples to the lab. – Donna Coffin, Extension Professor Piscataquis County, donna.coffin@maine.edu

Q: What practices should I be putting in place to keep my family, crew, and customers safe through all of this? I produce fruit and vegetables. (3/30/20)
A: Check out this clear and concise list of steps for growers and market managers to put in place to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. (Prepared by UVM Extension). This list includes tested and approved sanitizers for cleaning surfaces. More Maine specific recommendations can be found here at the Beginning Farmer Resource Network’s COVID-19 Information and Support for Maine Farmers Jason Lilley, Sustainable Agriculture Professional, jason.lilley@maine.edu

Q: Can I take a pesticide exam? (4/3/20)
A: The Board of Pesticides is temporarily suspending all pesticide certification exams. You can still earn credits online, including newly added options, to maintain existing certification. – Rebecca Long, Agriculture and Food Systems Professional, rebecca.j.long@umaine.edu

Q: What products, other then alcohol can we use for cleaning cutting tools with the alcohol shortage? (4/8/20)
A: Hydrogen Dioxide and Pyeroxyacetic Acid (ZeroTol® 2.0, OxiDate® 2.0, SaniDate®12.0) and Quaternary ammonium chloride salts (Green-Shield®). Make sure to follow the label of whichever product you use. – Alicyn Smart, Plant Pathologist & Director of the Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, alicyn.smart@maine.edu

Q: I’m concerned I won’t be able to find the PPE I need to apply pesticides. What are my options? (4/23/20)
A: Despite the shortage, it is still required that you use proper PPE when applying pesticides. This website from the American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators provides more information including alternative practices. For more information, email Megan.L.Patterson@maine.gov at the Board of Pesticide Control.

Dairy & Livestock

Q: My lambs aren’t gaining weight; I think they have worms.  How can I find out if I should treat them? (3/30/20)
A: The UM Veterinary diagnostic lab is still able to help with livestock health questions, like testing fecal samples for parasites.  Check their site (http://umaine.edu/veterinarylab/) for more information. – Anne Lichtenwalner DVM Ph.D., Associate Professor of Animal and Veterinary Science, anne.lichtenwalner@maine.edu

Q: Is there help available to milk my cows if I get sick? (4/23/20)
A: It is critical that you get prepared ahead of any potential illness and this fact sheet is really important to review while you are healthy: Bulletin #1067: Guidelines for Maine Dairy Farmers Requiring Temporary Relief Workers Where a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Positive Case Has Been Suspected or Identified. If you have an emergency need for farm labor due to Covid-19 illness, we have established a pool of volunteers. The volunteers are registered through Maine Ready. There are also some UMaine AVS students available for assistance. Farmers can contact me (richard.kersbergen@maine.edu) or register their emergency needs through Maine Ready. – Richard Kersbergen, Extension Professor, Sustainable Dairy and Forage Systems, richard.kersbergen@maine.edu

Q: How can I market my livestock? (4/28/20)
A: While Maine’s livestock auctions are not running currently, livestock dealers are still permitted to transport animals to out of state sales. This is an essential service. Contact Michele Walsh, State Veterinarian for details (michele.walsh@maine.gov, 207.287.7615) – Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, donna.coffin@maine.edu

 

Labor

Q: I’m concerned about finding enough labor for my farm. What are my options? (4/23/20)
A: The Farm Labor Link Network site has a ton of great resources including an extensive list of places to post jobs under the Finding Employees section for employers. – Rebecca Long, Agriculture and Food Systems Professional, rebecca.j.long@umaine.edu

Food Safety

Q: I grow strawberries. If I find out after the fact that a picker has COVID-19 and the strawberries are contaminated, what should I do with the strawberries? (4/1/20)
A: In short, there is no need to destroy the strawberries. The farmer’s largest concern should be to avoid workers’ person-to-person contamination since this is the only 100% known form of transmission so far. Since FDA is not requiring a recall, we can extrapolate that there is no need to throw it out. To be extra cautious, if the farmer makes any added value products, he could use the strawberries picked by a sick employee to make jams or jellies, etc. The processing of those products will certainly kill the virus. In addition, there is a lot of information floating around about how long the virus can survive on surfaces. The problem with that data is that being able to detect the virus on surfaces does not mean that the virus is active. The most common techniques for virus detection cannot make a difference between viable and non-viable viruses since they are only looking for the virus’ RNA molecule. RNA can be present but just as debris from inactive viruses. Answer references information from the FDA FAQ page. – Robson Machado, Ph.D., Assistant Extension Professor, and Food Scientist, robson.macgado@maine.edu

Q: Should I use soap to wash the fruits and vegetables I purchase? (4/7/20)
A: No, soap is only recommended for non-porous surfaces such as countertops. Soap should not be ingested and if you use it to wash fruits and produce there is a risk of ingestion. – Robson Machado, Assistant Extension Professor, and Food Scientist, robson.machado@maine.edu

Ag Business

Q: I usually sell my meat and eggs at a farmers’ market that is now closed, how can I let customers know I have agriculture products to sell? (3/30/2020)
A: Maine Extension started an Available Local Maine Farm Products and Seafood and Alternative Pick-Up Options Directory that farmers, fishers, and value-added producers can list what they have available and the methods customers can access their products. – Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, donna.coffin@maine.edu

Q: My farm usually only wholesales, but we lost our markets due to the virus and are considering trying out some kind of retail marketing. How are other farmers handling this? (3/30/2020)
A: You can find a number of resources on the UMaine Extension website, as compiled by the Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine. You can now also see the initial results of a statewide farmer survey indicating how they are making changes and what they are struggling with. – Tori Jackson, Extension Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources, tori.jackson@maine.edu

Q: What resources are available to businesses that are continuing to employ individuals? We are a local food distribution company. I’ve heard rumors of assistance for personnel and rent costs. Thank you for any info you may have! (3/21/20)
A: In the recently signed US stimulus package there are low-interest loans for small businesses that convert to grants if specific criteria are met through the outbreak (the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the Small Business Administration). Their website provides more info on the amount of the loan that can be forgiven and the requirements that have to be met. The money can be used for payroll and operating expenses and will be available through your local bank. I suggest you check with your loan officer. This is a first come first serve program, however, the governmental forms are not yet available. But you can get a head start on knowing if your bank will be processing this stimulus money. Additional resources: The Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act and Coronavirus Emergency Loans: Small Business Guide and Checklist. – Rebecca Long, Agriculture and Food Systems Professional, rebecca.j.long@umaine.edu & Mark Hutchinson, Extension Professor, mhutch@maine.edu

Update 4/3/20:  Friday, April 3, 2020: Applications can begin for small businesses and sole proprietorships through existing SBA 7(a) lenders. Friday, April 10, 2020: Applications begin for independent contractors and self-employed individuals through existing SBA 7(a) lenders.  ***Please contact your lender immediately, as funding is limited.

Q: Is there guidance for farmer’s markets opening soon? (4/1/20)
A: Gary Fish, State Horticulturist for DACF provided this guidance for farmers’ markets. – Dave Fuller, Agriculture, and Non-Timber Forest Products Professional IV, dfuller@maine.edu

Q: Are there any grants for us very small farm operations in the COVID-19 bill that they just passed? (4/7/20)
A: The Maine Dept. of Ag has a site with information about Farm Finance including the SBA Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Program. No out right grants. In my last Ag newsletter, I had information about a $500 grant from FACT for livestock farms. – Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, donna.coffin@maine.edu

Q: Which platform should I use to sell my products online? (4/17/20)
A: There are lots of options, many are on our list of e-commerce and other alternative marketing ideas for farms. The page also includes the contact info for several service providers offering guidance for farmers setting up online sales. – Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, donna.coffin@maine.edu

Q: I’m having trouble getting a person to help me with my application for unemployment support for farmers. The phones and online are all non-responsive. (5/6/20)
A: When there has been an issue related to state or federal government offices that are trying to implement laws, you can always reach out to your state legislators or federal congressional delegation to help you. They all have staff whose job is to provide constituent services to help the people they serve with negotiating the confusing and frustrating implementation of laws. – Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, donna.coffin@maine.edu
 

Q: How can I conduct a seedling sale safely? (5/8/20)
A: We have put together a page of resources, in collaboration with MOFGA and DACF on how to safely conduct seedling sales. Also, checkout Bulletin #2515, Managing Garden Center and On-Farm Seedling Sales Safely in Maine: Best Practices and Recommendations for Marketing During COVID-1 and Bulletin #2516, Managing Farmers Market Seedling Sales Safely in Maine: Best Practices and Recommendations for Marketing During COVID-19. There is also a recording of a Seedling Sales and Logistics: Case Studies and Discussion Session from April, 15, 2020. – Jason Lilley, Sustainable Agriculture Professional, jason.lilley@maine.edu

Q: Is there any guidance for farms that do pick-your-own/U-Pick? (5/8/20)
A: Guidance can be found on our Best Management Practices for U-Pick Farms During COVID-19 site. – David Handley, david.handley@maine.edu