Agriculture businesses adjust to COVID-19 measures

farmers hands on tool

Ohio, West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania are now under a “stay-at-home” order as state governments’ responses to COVID-19 continue to evolve.

What does that mean? Unless you work for an essential business or are doing an essential activity, you should stay home.

People can still go get groceries and fill prescriptions. They can walk their dogs and do outdoor activities as long as they practice social distancing. Roads will remain open. But nonessential businesses and services were ordered to close.

So, what is essential? Agriculture and all parts of the food supply chain made the list in all three states.

“Agriculture’s role is unquestionable: access to food is a right,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, in a statement. “We need local agriculture now more than ever.”

Pennsylvania specifically listed agriculture as essential early on in its COVID-19 response. The state department of agriculture also put out guidance for how farms and other agricultural businesses can stay safe while staying open.

Pennsylvania counties under a stay-at-home order are Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia.

Ohio and West Virginia used federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help determine critical industries. Agriculture and food production were listed, among many others like public safety, transportation and energy.

The designation was a win for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and eight agricultural commodity groups that sent a letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, March 18, requesting such an action.

What’s left

Although many agricultural businesses are still open, they’ve changed the way they operate.

Many livestock auction facilities are asking that only buyers attend sales and have closed on-site cafes. People dropping off livestock are asked to leave the grounds immediately afterward. Centerra Co-op, Heritage Cooperative and others are asking customers to do business electronically when possible and limit contact with others when loading.

All animal diagnostic laboratories in Pennsylvania are still open, as are the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s laboratories in Reynoldsburg, although people should call ahead to find out changes in hours, services or drop-off procedures. Ohio State University Extension and Penn State Extension offices are closed to the public, but staff members are working remotely.

Grocery stores are open. So too are smaller retailers like butchers, on-farm stores and farmers markets, with many seeing an extraordinary jump in business after COVID-19 hit.

“The demand is high. It’s making inventory low,” Greg Burbick, told Farm and Dairy March 20.

Burbick owns G. Burbick Farms, near Columbiana, Ohio, where he sells retail cuts of grassfed beef, pork and chicken at an on-farm store, as well as bulk meat. Existing customers have been stocking up and he’s gained a few new ones in recent weeks.

While sales are good now, he’s thinking about long term impact. He wonders if people will become more connected to and interested in their local food systems as a result of this crisis. He also wonders how business will be in coming months after people stocked up.

“I don’t know if it’s good or not,” he said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or


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Rachel is Farm and Dairy's editor and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County, where she co-manages the family farm raising beef cattle and sheep with her husband and in-laws. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts. She can be reached at or 724-201-1544.



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