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DeWine Considers Agriculture in Shutdown Orders
Ohio Ag Connection - 03/23/2020

"The quick, decisive actions taken by Gov. DeWine to battle the spread of COVID-19 have, without a doubt, been difficult ones and have required all Ohioans to make unprecedented changes to our way of life," praised Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp following a letter sent by the state's agricultural groups calling for mindfulness in dealing with agriculture.

The Ohio groups, including Ohio Farm Bureau, sent the letter 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.

"One of the keys to winning this fight against the coronavirus is ensuring reliable agriculture and food systems for the short and long term. We appreciate the Governor reaching out to Ohio Farm Bureau and the agricultural industry to seek our input on what is best for Ohio's food and agricultural community and businesses as he takes additional actions. He fully recognizes that all components of Ohio's food system are essential services. Gov. DeWine's use of the Department of Homeland Security guidance as well as other good models will allow farmers, processors, truckers and everyone who keeps the food shelves stocked to continue to work. The governor's recognition of agriculture as an essential service should give consumers throughout Ohio peace of mind when it comes to our healthy, safe and affordable food supply," Sharp said over the weekend, after the governor and the groups communicated.

The groups asked that DeWine recognize the critical infrastructure involved in the food supply chain. Things like taking care of livestock and poultry, producing and processing feed for animals, planting and harvesting, agricultural supply businesses and the transportation networks between all of those supply points.

"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," the letter read.

The letter was signed by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio AgriBusiness Association, Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, Ohio Cattlemen's Association, Ohio Pork Council, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association and Ohio Soybean Association.

The DeWine administration already ordered restaurants and bars to stop dine-in service and closed a variety of businesses like gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, recreation centers, hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors.

"We've seen in the news steps that have been taken by other states... in regard to the closing of additional businesses. We continue to work to find the right balance," DeWine said in a March 20 press conference.

But the governor said between balancing his responsibility to protect the people of Ohio and keeping the economy moving, he will "air on the side of protecting people."

Ohio reported its first death related to COVID-19 on March 20, a man from Lucas County.

The Department of Homeland Security designated agriculture and food production as a critical industry in a March 19 memorandum. The department developed a list of essential infrastructure workers to help state and local officials as they continue to make decisions on how to keep their communities safe.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared agriculture and food supply businesses to be life-sustaining, excluding them from his March 19 order that all non-life-sustaining businesses close.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture released guidance for farms, on-farm stores and farmers markets and food supply businesses to stay safe while staying open. [Read more about Pennsylvania's guidance to farmers]

The letter to DeWine went on to list "major agricultural issues with which we will remain engaged."

That included ensuring inspections continued as normal and that Ohio Department of Agriculture laboratories stay open, keeping livestock auctions open and addressing possible labor shortages.

The coalition is especially concerned about travel restrictions impacting the transportation of agricultural supplies and livestock or the movement of farmers, farm workers or other food supply chain employees getting to their jobs.

"If transportation restrictions are put in place, we need to make sure that farm supplies are considered essential," the letter stated.

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