A coalition of Ohio agriculture groups, including Ohio Farm Bureau, sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine to highlight the importance of farmers and all of those along the food supply chain amid the state’s COVID-19 response efforts. These organizations are fielding many calls from their members who have questions about how their industry may be impacted. This letter addresses those concerns and asks for consideration and actions for what is an essential part of overcoming the coronavirus crisis. Here is a portion of the letter to Gov. DeWine:
We are thankful for your leadership as well as that of Lt. Gov. Husted and Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director Pelanda during these uncertain times. The concerns around the rapid spread of COVID-19 have already had a major impact on our daily routines.
Both you and the President have noted that our food supply is an essential service, which is vitally important. We must recognize that our critical infrastructure for food also includes those in the supply chain below, and food distribution centers, or there will be no food in those centers to distribute to grocery stores and retail outlets. This infrastructure includes, but is not limited to, those taking care of livestock and poultry, those producing and processing feed for livestock, poultry, equine, meat, eggs and dairy processing plants, agricultural supply infrastructure (including seed, crop protectants, fertilizer, etc.), planting and harvesting of crops, fruits and vegetables; and transport between all these critical supply points. We would implore you to designate the agriculture commodity community as an essential service if you decide to deploy a “shelter in place” or “quarantine” order.
Here are some of the additional major agricultural issues with which we will remain engaged:
- Ensuring dairy, eggs, meat and processing inspections will continue as normal
- Ensuring all ODA labs are open and testing is on-going
- The U.S. Consulate in Mexico as well as several additional U.S. embassies have suspended or dramatically reduced visa services, including nonimmigrant visas. This likely includes H-2A and H-1B visa processing for the upcoming crop year.
○ With many agricultural guest workers typically en route to the U.S. this time of year, this could create a very serious labor issue where farms across Ohio and the country would not have the labor to plant their crops.
○ If major H-2A visa disruptions continue and a labor shortage ensues, immediate assistance will be needed to help find any available labor to keep these essential farms producing.
- We are having conversations with our members about farmers’ markets, wineries and those that sell directly to restaurants to determine if any legislative or administrative exemptions could be helpful to them in these very difficult times. ○ Many states are treating farmers’ markets like grocery stores, we would appreciate the same clarification under Ohio’s mass gathering order.
- Assistance with cash flow — keeping as much cash/credit in the hands of farmers that are seeing major disruptions.
- The typical Hours of Service exemptions for agriculture as well as the weight limit exemptions beginning April 1 must remain in place. However, again, if any order limiting transportation is issued, we need to ensure it does not apply to the transport of feed, seed, supplies, or agricultural commodities, etc.
- Farmers, farm workers, food supply chain employees and the people transporting these components related to our food supply must remain identified as critical so as to not restrict them going to and from their respective jobs or farms.
- Livestock auctions are remaining open for now but must stay under mass gathering limits. These auctions are another critical point of the food supply chain to help get food to the market.
- While vital food/medical supplies have PUCO and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) waivers it is currently understood that farm supplies (feed, livestock, fertilizer, etc.) are not included. If transportation restrictions are put in place, we need to make sure that farm supplies are considered essential.
- Fuel — gasoline and diesel should be fine but we are at the end of the winter supply cycle for propane — if needed, we’ll work with ODA to coordinate “spot” propane shipments.
One thing is certain as we all navigate short term disruptions in the food and agricultural industry, we will remain a resource to help identify solutions, help spread needed messaging, or highlight areas of concerns to make sure our farmers in Ohio will continue to help deliver a safe and abundant food supply.