COVID-19 Grower Update
The COVID-19 outbreak has raised some concerns amongst the brewing community regarding the 2020 hop growing season. As an organization with a mission to connect family farms with the world’s finest brewers, we want to keep you updated on what is happening in the fields. One of YCH’s grower owners, Jeff Perrault of Perrault Farms, helped to answer common questions about how they are addressing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic at the farm level. Click here for the complete video.
Q: How is COVID-19 affecting hop farming operations?
A: Perrault Farms has about 135 employees currently working on site. At this time, agriculture is exempt from the Stay-at-Home Order. Obviously with being exempt, there is a lot of responsibility for employers to keep employees safe.
Early-on, we started researching and implementing best-practices for how to keep our employees safe throughout this pandemic. We spoke to local doctors, regularly checked the CDC website and consulted with organizations like the National Council of Ag Employers and the Washington Growers League, which have all been instrumental in keeping us updated.
We’ve come up with a good system by following recommendations from the healthcare industry to reduce the spread of COVID-19, making sure employees with symptoms are staying home from work and ensuring that social distancing is enforced whenever possible.
We are also making sure employees are regularly washing their hands and that equipment is getting sanitized throughout the day. So far, it’s been implemented well, and our crew leaders have been doing a good job ensuring it’s done correctly.
Q: What are some of the ways that you are protecting your employees?
A: I think one of the biggest goals is to educate employees on our best practices, like adhering to social distancing at work and at home, not attending parties or gatherings, and letting employees know that they’ll be compensated if they are unable to work.
In Washington State, we’ve had sick leave on the books for several years now. In addition to sick leave, we now have access to the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, which we utilize to make sure employees are compensated. We also made it clear to employees that if they’re in that “high risk” category, then they’re not obligated to come to work. And we definitely don’t want them to come to work if they would rather be home sheltering in place.
Q: Will COVID-19 affect hop quality, regular operations and/or acreage?
A: Currently, we do not foresee the COVID-19 outbreak affecting hop quality or farming operations.
Springtime on the hop farm is typically busier than our harvest season. We currently have pruners and four twining crews operating, as well as a general crew working to ensure sure irrigation tubing is put back on the hill.
Regarding hop acreage and supply, we were notified early on of possible changes in demand for hops as a result of the pandemic. We were able to peel back acreage to a more sustainable level, which is better than grossly over-producing for the year. Communication has been key, and I really think that our ability to communicate is what’s going to carry us through this pandemic. I guess one positive thing that I’ve seen is the communication within the ag industry and communication between growers and Yakima Chief Hops.
Q: How is COVID-19 affecting the H-2A program?
A: Typically, we utilize the H-2A program to fill gaps where needed. We are monitoring our local labor market and, with the increase in local layoffs, we’re hoping to supply more jobs to our local economy. The H-2A program will only be used to supplement our workforce, if needed. The next couple weeks will be very telling if that’s going to become a reality.