Pa. Governor: agriculture is an essential business

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf urged all nonessential businesses to close for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, but agriculture was not among them. 

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

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture put out guidance March 17 for how farms, on-farm markets, food processors and other agricultural businesses can stay open while mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Farms are recommended to identify a drop-off location for deliveries away from high traffic areas and housing, using a drop-box near the road or before the farm entry if possible. Use a visitor’s log for everyone entering the farm and monitor personal travel with a personal travel log.

For people running farmers markets or on-farm stores, they should consider delivery or pick-up options, prepackaging fruit and vegetables to limit customers handling food and keep things moving quickly and advertise changes on website, social media and on signs. 

Farmers markets that are relocating temporarily due to COVID-19 do not need a new food safety license from the department of agriculture.

The full guidance sheets for farms and on-farm deliveries can be found here. The farm markets and on-farm store guidance can be found here. There are also guidance sheets for dairy producers and food processors and manufacturers.

The complete list of essential ag and food businesses, according to the Wolf administration, is: farms, greenhouses, orchards, pest management services, feed mills and ag supply businesses, agriculture equipment sales and services, animal feed and supply distribution network, food and meat processors and manufacturers, veterinary services and supplies, distribution and transportation services, grocery stores and farmers markets, grocery delivery services, laboratories and inspectors.

All animal diagnostic laboratories in Pennsylvania are still open. The Pennsylvania Veterinary Lab, in Harrisburg, reduced operating hours from 8 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday, but the lab is still receiving samples 24/7 under normal circumstances.

The Penn State Animal Diagnostic Lab, at University Park, is still open and operating normal hours, but people are asked to call ahead before traveling to the lab. The number is 814-863-0837.

The animal diagnostic lab at Penn Vet New Bolton Center, in Chester County, is also still open, but the availability and hours of some services may change. A complete list of services and availability can be found here.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced that its agricultural laboratories in Reynoldsburg are still open, but there are changes to how samples can be delivered to limit human to human contact.

When dropping off a sample, people should call the lab and a staff member will meet them at the door to accept the sample. The number for the Animal Diagnostic Disease Laboratory is 614-728-6220. The number for the Consumer Protection Lab is 614-728-6230.

The Ohio Department of Ag also announced all inspections it oversees will continue. 

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. 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.

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