Counties are color-coded to indicate the level of 2017 farm labor expenses. They are overlaid with a heat map indicating confirmed COVID-19 cases as of July 14. Red areas have a higher density of cases, and yellow areas have a lower density.
HIRED LABOR EXPENSES
This map shows where farm labor is concentrated across the country and the rise in cases of COVID-19 in those areas. Data on the concentration of farmworkers is from the Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture. Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University, as of July 14. Clicking on a county brings up details, including USDA data on payments to farmers under the Trump administration trade war bailout.
Just as the harvest season is about to begin, cases of COVID-19 have been rising in counties that have some of the highest concentration of farm labor. Although some farmworkers are able to spread out in fields, many migrant and seasonal workers are housed and transported in ways that increase the likelihood that the virus will spread.
Despite the critical role food and farm workers play in our economy, few receive protections from the COVID-19 virus. Some food and farm companies have provided personal protective equipment, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and the USDA have not yet issued emergency standards requiring food companies to meet safety guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Replacing sick workers will not be easy. Farmers were already facing labor shortages before the pandemic. Now fewer farm and food workers are migrating to the U.S. as borders tighten, and officials have been slow to update the visa process to reflect the crisis. What’s more, food and farm work can be difficult and dangerous, so food processors and farm labor contractors may struggle to find other workers willing to risk their lives to work in meat plants, packing sheds or produce fields.