Coronavirus: FAQs for business

The COVID-19 outbreak has raised a lot of uncertainty among the farming industry's business community. This page aims to answer some of the more important questions during this time. 

If you have a question you'd like answered, please email: COVID19.FAQs@ahdb.org.uk

Assurance

You can find the latest advice on assurance schemes below.

Red Tractor COVID-19 hub

QMS coronavirus update

If you are a member of another assurance scheme please check their website for guidance.

The deadline for submission of Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier Schemes is midnight on 31 July. If you believe you won’t be able to meet this deadline, you must email the Rural Payments Agency. For more information on what you need to do, visit Coronavirus (COVID-19): information for farmers, landowners and rural businesses.

Farm visits and inspections have resumed, following social-distancing rules. All customers will be contacted before a visit.

Some capital agreements that began after 1 April 2018 or in 2019 have been extended. For more information visit Coronavirus (COVID-19): information for farmers, landowners and rural businesses.

Business support

A range of support is available, including a job retention scheme, business loans and business rates relief. To see what you may be eligible for, and how to apply, visit the Coronavirus Business Support Finder.

If your business provides holiday accommodation (including camping) you may be eligible to pay a reduced rate of VAT on these services. Please click here for more information. 

A hardship fund has been announced for dairy farmers in England and Wales who have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The schemes are administered by the Rural Payments Agency and Rural Payments Wales. Applications must be submitted before 14 August 2020.

For business advice on issues such as recruitment, finances and personal support, visit the AHDB business advice and support page. You can also listen to an AHDB podcast about Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans, and what they mean for farmers and growers. 

The Bristol Corn Trade Guild is a registered charity that supports hardship cases in the grain and feed trade. The contact is Richard Cooksley on 01275 373539 or 07801435772.

Information on other farming community charities can be found on our Support for Farmers page 

Some meetings which would have taken place face-to-face may now need to take place over the internet.

Different software is available, including Skype, Zoom and FaceTime. Check which software your meeting is using and ensure you have downloaded it well ahead of the meeting taking place. You may be able to use your phone, laptop or desktop PC.

Read our top tips for holding a video conference for more useful guidance.

The National Association of Agricultural Contractors has published a Coronavirus guide for contractors, including a checklist for contractors visiting farms. 

The NAAC has also published a COVID-19 checklist for shearing contractors and farmers.

The NFU has published advice on public rights of way here.

Further advice and guidance for land managers can be found here

There have been anecdotal reports of difficulties getting both renewable and non-renewable heating fuel supplies. This may be due to some businesses closing, or difficulties in obtaining some of the raw materials (for example, materials for making wood fuels).

To help reduce the risk of limited fuel supplies:

  • Plan well ahead
  • Take regular fuel stock levels and start the ordering process early so that your chosen supplier can allocate fuel to you
  • Be prepared to be flexible about delivery dates and times

In line with government advice, you should minimise contact with the delivery driver and observe social-distancing guidelines.

If you need fuel for your biomass boiler and receive RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive), you must ensure you remain within the eligibility of your accreditation. Review your RHI accreditation application to make sure you remain compliant. More information to stay ahead of the game and consider your fuel supply is available here.   

Be assured that the Government has included fuel suppliers, including renewable fuels suppliers, as key workers within their guidance in order to minimise the disruption to UK business. Therefore, these businesses can continue to trade and deliver.

Markets and prices

Our latest market analysis is published here:

First of all, speak to your buyer. Understand their end customer and their options for selling into a different market. Most foodservice outlets have now closed (apart from some takeaways), but demand in retail has grown strongly. The ease with which your product can switch markets will depend on your sector and supply chain. Speak to your buyer to understand their contingency planning and check the latest market intelligence available here:

Recruitment

A number of recruitment organisations are recruiting seasonal workers for the upcoming season to help to fill any staff shortages, including:

If you are a recruiter and would like to be added onto this list, please email us to let us know at COVID19.FAQs@ahdb.org.uk

The NFU has a dedicated news hub, available to members online here, including information on access to labour and advice to employers. In Scotland, NFUS has created an inventory of farms who are looking for staff. If you are a farm business looking for staff, visit the labour requirement web page for more information.

If you don’t already use a labour provider, consider getting in touch with the Association of Labour Providers for advice. It has a dedicated coronavirus support page, including a Spare Worker Availability Portal.

For information on how to work effectively with your labour provider, watch this AHDB webinar.

If you recruit directly, consider advertising vacancies in local social media groups/shops. Alternatively, Jobs In Agriculture is offering free listings for companies looking for temporary staff. In Scotland, immediate jobs for key workers can be advertised for free on the national job hub, My World of Work.

It doesn’t matter whether a new staff member has had experience in the agri/horticulture sectors or not; the first few days of a new job are daunting. Take the time to plan some induction activities for your new employee. Include:

  • introducing them to other staff and any important clients or suppliers
  • giving them the grand tour of your workplace, including work health and safety and emergency procedures and exits, to make sure they know where to find everything they’ll need to do their job
  • any formal or informal training, such as operating machinery
  • giving them time to find their way around and settle in

Further information

A template checklist for inducting new employees

Preparing your induction process (horticulture specific)

How to motivate and get the most from workers

Getting the most from your workforce (horticulture specific)

Recruitment and retention: a practical guide for employers from Scotland Food and Drink

In terms of a training plan, for livestock use the Level 2 Stockperson apprenticeship standards and training matrix

If you are looking to work with recruitment companies the following YouTube videos are worth a watch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=linlpad-Q30, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LMmOJVZdI0&t=1s

Take steps now to ensure you are prepared for any staff who may need to be absent for illness or self-isolation. For example, do you have all important passwords written down and stored somewhere safe?

Use our business contingency plan to help you structure your planning.

You can find advice on contracts and employment on the ACAS website.

Travel

Keep visitors to a minimum. You should avoid direct contact with new entrants on farm.

For more information and guidance on how to manage on-farm collection, check the following links.

Although these pages are sector-specific, they contain good general guidance for managing visitors to your farm, regardless of sector.

Travel restrictions for the general public vary in each of the devolved nations. However, those who work in the food supply chain are allowed to travel for work reasons. 

Employers may wish to issue a letter to all staff members for any essential travel they make. This should be on official, company-headed paper, certifying that the named individual who holds the letter is deemed a key worker in the agricultural and food/feed supply chain. Staff should carry the letter with them at all times, including when travelling to and from work or when in the lorry if a haulage driver.

You may find the following resources useful:

AHDB template letter for staff movement

Useful templates on the NFU Scotland website.

Open letter from George Eustice, Environment Secretary re: Key Workers

Follow UK government advice and do not leave the home if you or anyone in your household has coronavirus symptoms. Ensure that you comply with the conditions of General licences for wildlife management.

People travelling from a country that is not exempt will need to isolate for 14 days. However, different rules apply to seasonal agricultural workers.

In England, seasonal agricultural workers working in edible horticulture will be allowed to isolate at the property they are working on. They may be placed into a cohort that they primarily live and work with while isolating and must follow specific advice.

See the advice for ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

Before entering the UK, they will need to provide some information to border authorities. The latest guidance can be found here.

Workers from the EU will need to provide an email or letter from their employer confirming their employment status. You may wish to use this EU Seasonal Worker Exemption template.

For advice on managing cohorts, social distancing and living arrangements, visit Best practices to avoid the spread of coronavirus for seasonal workers on fruit and vegetable farms

All lorry/bus/trailer MOTs have been suspended from 21 June for three months. In most cases, they will be automatically issued a three-month exemption. For more information, visit Coronavirus: MOTs for lorries, buses and trailers.

Rules on drivers’ hours were relaxed in Great Britain, from 23 March to 14 June. This relaxation has now ended. For more information, visit Temporary relaxation of the enforcement of the drivers’ hours rules has ended.

Employee support

The following organisations are providing practical advice for employees and employers:

AHDB’s AgriLeader team has developed a range of digital resources designed to help motivate your team during these difficult times. You can register to receive a new motivational video every week by emailing lpc.crm@ahdb.org.uk and request to opt in to AgriLeader emails.  

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the list of critical workers includes all those involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food. It also includes those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example, hygienic and veterinary medicines). If you work in this critical sector and you cannot keep your child safe at home, then your children will be prioritised for education provision. For information on the critical worker list, click here.

In Scotland, the list of critical workers is being decided at a council level. Please contact your council for more information. For more information on school closures in Scotland, click here.

Best practice guidance on avoiding the spread of coronavirus for seasonal workers on fruit and vegetable farms can be found here. It includes advice on managing shared living arrangements. Please note, this document has been produced based on advice from Public Health England. Other restrictions and advice may apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ensure that your staff have access to the latest guidance regarding:

• staying at home for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection
• social distancing. Separate guidance applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You can find general guidance for farm businesses on coronavirus and your workers here; farm businesses should take legal advice based on their particular circumstances and contracts of employment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is monitoring the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Currently, there is no change to expectations for providing PPE and RPE for protecting people at work, as set out in HSE guidance. HSE will make further information available, if and when necessary.

HSE expects businesses to make the appropriate arrangements for sourcing PPE/RPE from their usual supplier or alternative suppliers, as necessary. If your PPE/RPE supplier runs out, you should:

  • Find other sources of supply. Look for PPE/RPE that is CE marked, provided with a Declaration of Conformity and with accompanying instructions in English. If a European Standard has been applied, it will be specified on the Declaration of Conformity
  • Check that you are efficiently managing the provision of PPE within your business
  • Use alternative equipment that provides at least the same level of protection (e.g. RPE with an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 40 instead of 20)

Where PPE is required, it is a necessary control measure to comply with the law. Reducing protection would put workers at risk of ill health from exposure to hazardous substances. Where possible, work with the hazardous substance should be avoided, or the work done in another way that significantly reduces the risk of exposure. PPE is the last line of protection, in addition to using other control measures where they can be effective.

Where tight-fitting RPE is required as a control measure to comply with health and safety legislation, it should be suitable, i.e. face-fitted. The performance of tight-fitting face pieces depends on achieving a good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the face piece. People’s faces vary significantly in shape and size, so it is unlikely that one particular model or size of RPE face piece will fit everyone. Inadequate fit will significantly reduce the protection provided to the wearer. Any reduction in protection may lead to immediate or long-term ill health or can even put the RPE wearer’s life in danger. Guidance on RPE fit testing can be found here.

Any FFP3 masks that are out of date will need to be retested against the EN149 standard by an independent testing laboratory to ensure they are suitable for use beyond their expiry date. If the manufacturer can’t be contacted for advice, contact an independent test facility, such as INSPEC International Ltd.

Disposable PPE/RPE can be reused, providing that it remains adequate and suitable, is not damaged, continues to provide the intended protection, and workers can put it back on without being exposed to risk. The “disposable” term applies to the end of a period of reasonable use, e.g. a working day or shift, or possibly longer in some cases. A “disposable” mask may be taken off and reused numerous times during a day. This will depend on specific circumstances of use.

For cereals and potato farmers:

You can access a library of resources relating to safe potato operations here.

Where there are no practical alternatives, other workplace canteens can remain open to provide food for staff and/or provide a space for breaks. However, where possible, staff should be encouraged to bring their own food, and distributors should move to takeaway.

Measures should be taken to minimise the number of people in the canteen at any one given time, for example by using a rota.

Check the latest guidance here.

For guidance on how to place staff on furlough, visit Gov.UK

More information about the job retention scheme can be found on the NFU website, though some is only available to NFU members. 

Please consult new guidance for food businesses on coronavirus, published 26 June. This should be considered alongside specific guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For general advice on social distancing in the workplace, as well as best practice guidelines, click here

Farm businesses can find guidance on social distancing here

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has up-to-date advice on looking after well-being on farm, including details on self-isolation, tips for staying at home, lone working and health and safety guidance for outdoor working and farming during the coronavirus pandemic.

General financial support mechanisms

The Government put in place a number of measures to support UK businesses through the COVID-19 outbreak.

Employers can apply for a grant to cover part of employees regular wages for any time spent on furlough through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. The monthly cap is reduced in proportion to hours actually worked.

If eligible, employees are placed on furlough.

There are deadlines in place for when a business will need to claim by, for instance, claims for furlough days in December 2020 had to be made by 14 January 2021.

This scheme has been extended until 30 April 2021.

More information here.

The Self Employment Income Support Scheme is open to those that are self-employed and have been unable to work due to the coronavirus outbreak. To make a claim for the third grant your business must have had a new or continuing impact from coronavirus between 1 November 2020 and 29 January 2021, which you reasonably believe will have a significant reduction in your profits. The third taxable grant is worth 80% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profits, and capped at £7,500 in total.

Applications for the third grant are open until 29 January 2021.

Information on how to make a claim here.

Small and medium-sized businesses will be able to reclaim statutory sick pay (SSP) for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The refund will cover up to two weeks SSP per eligible employee and is available to employers with fewer than 250 employees. Employers will not be required to provide a GP fit note but will need to maintain a record of staff absences. The online service to reclaim SSP isn’t available yet.

Grant funding

The Government is offering grants, some for closed businesses and some for open businesses, some of which may be applicable to certain members with diversifications. Check the available grants here.

Kickstart Scheme

For employers looking to create job placements for young people, there is funding available as part of the Kickstart Scheme. The Kickstart Scheme provides funding to create new job placements (not replacement jobs) for 16 to 24 year olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment.

Advice for those looking to create 30 or more new jobs

Advice for those looking to create 29 or less new jobs

Other funding

There are other funding support mechanisms, these include,

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

Coronavirus Future Fund

Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan

Government has introduced a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year although this may be applicable to those with diversifications.

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