Fewer Than 1% Of Farm Workers Have Confirmed COVID-19 Cases

New data from Purdue University and Microsoft shows food production isn’t an issue, even during the height of the pandemic. ( Purdue University )

New data shows COVID-19 illnesses at the farm level are less than 1%. Purdue University teamed up with Microsoft to create an online Food and Ag Vulnerability map.

The point of the map is to show COVID-19’s impact on the farm level is very miniscule when you look at the bigger picture, explains Jayson Lusk, Purdue University economist and one of the authors.

“Early on when COVID started hitting and we saw runs on grocery stores, one of the biggest questions I was getting was are we going to have enough food to eat,” Lusk says.

As the map started to compile all the cases and drill down to a county level, Lusk says, it proved food production isn’t an issue, even during the height of the pandemic.

“I think a lot of people were worried somehow our production of food itself would be disrupted,” he says. “It does help us know a little bit about where to focus our worries and efforts as we go out into the future.”

Lusk says Purdue and Microsoft matched COVID-19 cases with locations and data with the percentage of a county that has individuals involved in farm work.

“What we try to do is estimate the number of people that have been affected by COVID and then look at where they're at and the number of ag workers in those locations to try to get a sense of the number of either farmers or employed labor in agriculture that might be affected and then correlate that with production,” Lusk explains. “What you see is the share of the total production in the United States possibly at risk is very, very small, far less than 1%.”

Lusk says having less than 1% of the farm-level ag workforce impacted is good news. The data reinforces the concerns in the food sector have haven't been the because of problems of the farm, it's been really because of problems in food processing.

“Another big thing that really sticks out to me is if you really drill into the maps at the state or county level, you can see places that have meat packing plants showing up as red spots or more hot spots in terms of where there are more agriculturally related COVID cases.”

The map doesn’t measure packing plant worker illnesses, but it’s clear that areas with packing plants are seeing a higher number of cases.

“What this tool is measuring is just farm-level impacts,” he says. “This is not measuring the problems that we've seen in the meatpacking sector, for example. And that's something I'd like to do next, is build another tool like this that focuses really on meat and food processing, because that's where the problems have risen.”

The online tool allows you to drill down on a county level to see the impact on each sector of agriculture, including hogs, vegetables and soybeans.