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Georgia vegetable growers should prepare now for harvesting

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As we approach the harvest season for watermelon, bell pepper, tomato, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, sweet corn and other crops, Georgia vegetable growers can move ahead and prepare seasonal workers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during harvest time.

According to the National Watermelon Association, there was an increase in the incidence of COVID-19 amongst seasonal workers in the watermelon industry of north Florida during harvest, and positive coronavirus tests were reported in 75% of seasonal workers. That means that 3 of every 4 workers tested are positive for COVID-19.

Florida is a few weeks ahead of the Georgia watermelon industry for harvesting, and similar numbers can be expected in our state if agricultural operations don’t take action. Prepare for the possible transmission of coronavirus on your farm, packinghouse or other agricultural operation by stocking proper personal protective gear, instituting social distancing measures, and protecting the health of your employees, workers and customers.

Regardless of the crop and how long or short the season may be, growers can do their part and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is here to help. Below is a list of actions recommended by the National Watermelon Association:

  • Require all workers and employees to wear masks. There can be no exceptions outside of ADA restrictions.
  • Explain to workers that it’s in their best interest to take precautionary steps.
  • Put social distancing practices in place on the farm, in the sheds and in H-2A housing as much as possible.
  • Require workers and employees to regularly wash their hands and use hand sanitizers, if available.
  • Limit ridership on buses to allow for social distancing, and keep teams of workers together.
  • Sanitize buses and living spaces (H-2A housing) regularly. 
  • Pre-screen workers with temperature checks daily before work begins.
  • Ask workers to help with reporting. Encourage them to speak up if they see that others have symptoms.
  • Provide separate housing to quarantine workers who test positive. 

For more information on COVID-19, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov. For more resources on COVID-19 from UGA Extension, visit extension.uga.edu/emergencies. Contact your local Extension office by calling 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

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