Farmers ‘don’t really have plan to get out of pandemic’


New state regulations take effect May 11

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Both the state of Oregon and farmers are in a tough spot. New regulations put in place to protect farm workers may make it harder for family farms to economically survive the pandemic.

“Things are really difficult in agriculture right now,” said Mike McCarthy, who owns the McCarthy family farm in Parkdale. “Most farmers don’t really have a plan to get out of this.”

Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration imposed new guidelines to keep farm workers safe during the crisis, which include adding more portable toilets and providing housing where people can remain 6 feet apart.

The regulations take effect next Monday, May 11.

The problem is the cost of abiding by these regulations will fall on the farmers. And with prices falling at record rates, money is drying up.

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“We’re not in a position to do more things,” McCarthy said. “We’re already providing full time employment for our workers and housing for our workers and we just financially are not in a position to provide any more.”

An Oregon farmer (KOIN, file)

He said portable toilets cost $5000 each — and since he needs 5 toilets, that’s an extra $25,000.

Another concern is how quickly all these changes are going into effect. The temporary order was filed just a week ago.

“There are basically 11 days to comply with this. But the most difficult days are going to be when harvest starts,” McCarthy said. “During those time periods we’re going to need to figure out how to comply with those new regulations.”

Oregon Department of Agriculture

Nearly all of Oregon’s family farms have their backs against the wall, he said, and are forced to make a decision that could either break the new temporary guidelines or potentially put family farms out of business

“Most farmers don’t really have a plan to get out of this,” McCarthy said. “The best we can do is hang on and usually borrowing more money to get through this.”

Farmers were struggling before the pandemic with several PNW farms declaring bankruptcy. McCarthy said he fears more farms will be dealt the same fate before anyone finds a permanent solution for workers.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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