Coronavirus: FAQs about cereals, oilseeds, potatoes and horticulture

During the COVID-19 outbreak, this page aims to answer important questions about growing crops including cereals and oilseeds, horticulture and potatoes.

If you have a question you'd like answered, please email:


The Government guidelines are applicable to anyone in any setting. You can find them here. The NHS has also issued advice on how to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus. You can find it here. New guidance has been issued for working safely outdoors. This guidance has been produced with input from devolved administrations but should be considered alongside specific guidance from ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

The National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) has released guidance for land-based contractors.

Advisers can travel for work purposes but only where they cannot work from home. Consider alternative methods of communication to avoid a face-to-face meeting. Your business and your adviser should carry out a coronavirus risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive has published a guide to help businesses carry out a coronavirus workplace assessment. Maintain social distancing, wherever possible. If it is not possible to maintain social distancing, you should manage transmission risk. Reinforce cleaning processes and provide handwashing facilities at entry and exit points.

For more information, see the Government advice on working safely during coronavirus when working outdoors.

Red Tractor has issued guidance around calibrating moisture meters, following the cancellation of clinics due to coronavirus. More information is available here.

AHDB will be hosting a webinar on Wednesday 1 July at 7:00pm to discuss harvest preparations under the current restrictions. Register for the webinar here.


Currently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that the risk of contracting coronavirus from the UK food chain is extremely low, with evidence suggesting the risk of you catching the virus from your food to be very unlikely. The main route of transmission is human-to-human, primarily through coughing and sneezing. However, all food handlers should continue to maintain good hygiene and food safety standards and ensure that personal and environmental controls are in place in line with their business’s HACCP.

Evidence suggests that the risk of contracting coronavirus from food contact materials is very low. Processors/handlers should adhere to standard food/hygiene practices and be vigilant to ensure anyone showing symptoms (or in contact with) should self-isolate following government guidelines.

For more information, read the UK Government Guidance for food business on coronavirus (COVID-19).

AgSafe, a Canadian-based organisation, has created a number of useful Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources, including printable signs to display in your workplace.

Garden centres in may now reopen in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, providing they follow safety guidelines. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has produced safe distancing guidance for garden centres, including information on conducting risk assessments and signage that can be used in garden centres.

Garden centres can still operate online and home delivery operations. Any home deliveries must follow the PHE guidance to keep staff and consumers safe, including guidance for employers and businesses and social distancing. For more information, visit the HTA website.

For more information, see the Horticulture Trades Association Home Delivery Guidance

For those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, you should go to work. More information on safe travelling is available here. You should complete a coronavirus risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive has published a guide to help businesses carry out a coronavirus workplace assessment. Maintain social distancing, wherever possible. If it is not possible to maintain social distancing, you should manage transmission risk. Reinforce cleaning processes and provide handwashing facilities at entry and exit points.

The Horticulture Trades Association has produced Safe Trading Guidance, which is available here.

Michigan State University has published information on holding greenhouse crops when they can’t be shipped on time, including lowering the growing temperatures and applying plant growth regulator (PGR) sprays and drenches. Please note that the information on plant growth regulators is relevant to the situation in the USA, which is different to that in the UK. Growers should obtain the relevant technical product information or contact a BASIS-qualified advisor for specific detailed information.

Growers should refer to the AHDB factsheet on the use of plant growth regulators on bedding and pot plants. Important note – the factsheet was published in 2013, so changes to product availability and label recommendations may have occurred since.

You can also find updates on ongoing trials of plant growth regulators on bedding and pot plants, including a video.

The Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) has information on its website for members, including the latest employer advice, key contacts and member tips. Businesses can still operate online and utilise home-delivery operations. Any home deliveries must follow government guidance for employers and businesses, including social distancing.

A number of organisations have information and guidance for landscaping and turf industries:

All business should adhere to the latest government guidance for employees, employers and businesses, including encouraging employees to work at home wherever possible, and social distancing.

Pick for Britain is a hub linking jobseekers with growers who need staff. For more information visit Pick for Britain advice for employers.

For advice on finding, inducting and motivating new horticultural staff, please follow the following links. 

Finding seasonal labour

Preparing your induction process

Getting the most from your workforce

Please visit FAQs for business for general advice on recruitment and people management.

You can also view an AHDB webinar on Operating in a reduced labour market. 

Best practice to avoid the spread of coronavirus for seasonal workers is available here. Please note this guidance is based on Public Health England (PHE) guidance.

Guidance from the Scottish government can be found here. Other restrictions and advice may apply in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Cereals and oilseeds

Grain for food use can be sold up to 15 months post-harvest if the quality is maintained. Good storage practice is essential to achieve safe, effective grain storage and is key to assuring crop quality and minimising the loss of premiums through claims and rejections. Control fungi, which are the main causes of spoilage in stored cereals, through drying and cooling. Store grain below 14.5% mc and 5°C, except malting barley, which should not be stored below 10°C; store oilseed at 7.5–8% mc and <5°C. Monitor temperature (weekly), moisture, (monthly) and insects/mites using traps (monthly).  

 The AHDB Grain Storage Guide and safe storage time calculator for Cereals are available to download here 

In order to comply with government advice around coronavirus, AHDB has cancelled face-to-face events until further notice. AHDB events are now online. You can register for our digital events on our website. If you have missed one of our events, you can access recordings in our online events and webinar archive.

For more information on variety selection, use the Recommended Lists and variety selection tools. Sign up to receive Harvest Results emails from your local trial site. Watch a recording of the Ultimate Guide to the Barley & OSR Recommended List and the Ultimate Guide to the Wheat Recommended List webinars here.


SASA has issued a statement to its growers and producers, which states that, at present, it intends to complete tuber inspections following a protocol to minimise contact while maintaining standards. All potato tuber inspectors have received the protocol, which includes the following steps:

  • Read the Scottish Government Guidance on Coronavirus
  • If you have underlying health issues or are in the high-risk group, please discuss this with your line manager 
  • If you are displaying any symptoms of coronavirus, follow the guidance, stay at home and do not visit potato stores 
  • Adopt careful hygiene precautions – hands should be washed/sanitiser used when entering and when leaving the store 
  • Where possible, inspections should be carried out alone, providing all health and safety concerns are met 
  • Do not mix with other people in the store 
  • Avoid going into offices or enclosed spaces. Where possible, communicate with producers/grower representatives via email or phone 
  • If you need to speak to the growers’ representative, you should maintain a minimum safe distance of 2 m  

SASA is reviewing the situation and will adjust intentions if necessary

Potato supply chains, especially packhouse sites, operate under very strict hygiene rules, ensuring that all hygiene measures are carried out and adhered to. AHDB has produced guidance to support potato collections and deliveries, available here

You can control sprouting in most varieties if temperatures are kept below 3°C. The crop can potentially be stored for up to a year from harvest, but the tubers will taste increasingly sweet over time. At low temperatures, potatoes convert starch to sugar and this sugar leads to dark colours of the potato product on frying, baking or roasting, which is commercially undesirable.

If stored at cool temperatures (<5°C), potatoes will often store without too much of an adverse effect until the end of January without any additional treatment, but this depends on variety. Some will start to sprout ahead of this date and the warmer the crop is, the more sprouting that takes place.

At temperatures above 5°C, unless storage is for just a few weeks from harvest, then a sprout suppressant will usually be required to control growth once the crop has broken dormancy. Storage at warmer temperatures is usually necessary to prevent low-temperature sweetening.

Sprout suppressants are chemicals (e.g. CIPC, maleic hydrazide, ethylene or mint oil) which prevent sprout growth and must be used with care, as with any other agrochemical. Used in combination with temperature control, treated crops from the previous year’s harvest can be stored well into the summer months.

Some suppressants will maintain control better than others as crops enter the food chain. The most effective is CIPC, but this product will be banned from use after the 2019/20 season. Do not use CIPC on crops loaded into store in autumn 2020 as the crop will not be saleable.

For more information, visit the AHDB Potato Storage Hub.

AHDB has launched a new portal to help put potato growers and wholesale buyers in touch with each other. More information about the trade portal is available here. AHDB has launched a new portal to help put potato growers and wholesale buyers in touch with each other. More information about the trade portal is available here