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Chris Henney with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association

Ohio AgriBuisiness not quite business as usual

By Matt Reese

On April 27, Governor Mike DeWine announced a gradual plan for reopening Ohio’s economy after six weeks of a mandatory stay-at-home order that expires on May 1.

The Responsible Restart Ohio plan has three phases:

  • On May 1, medical procedures that do not require an overnight stay can proceed
  • On May 4, manufacturing, distribution, and construction businesses may reopen, provided they can meet mandatory safety requirements for customers and employees
  • On May 4, general office environments may reopen, provided they can meet mandatory safety requirements for customers and employees
  • On May 12, consumer, retail and services, may reopen, provided they can meet mandatory safety requirements for customers and employees.

Agricultural businesses, of course, never closed, said Chris Henney, chief executive officer with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association.

“A lot has changed but a lot hasn’t. Our agribusinesses include feed mills, grain elevators and ag retail facilities and they all continue to operate. Ag retail has been gearing up for spring planting season and all of that is the same. What’s significantly different, though, is how they are interacting with their customers and how they are protecting their employees as well. That has been a significant change,” Henney said. “It has been challenging to figure out how to make things work in our industry when often there are strong personal connections. Farmers like to do business with a handshake and we can’t shake hands anymore. They like to visit with sales folks who may stop out at the farm, that’s not happening right now either. There are significant changes while operations are continuing.”

As the rest of Ohio starts to reopen, all businesses (including agricultural businesses) have been directed by Governor DeWine to follow additional protocols. The general safe business practices that all businesses must follow are:

  • Encouraging face coverings for all employees, and recommending them for clients and customers at all times
  • Conducting daily health assessments or self-evaluations of employees to determine if they should work
  • Maintaining good hygiene at all times such as hand washing and social distancing
  • Cleaning and sanitizing workplaces throughout the day and at the close of business or between shifts
  • Limiting capacity to meet social distancing guidelines.

For many agribusinesses, many of these measures have already been implemented.

“Personal Protective Equipment is really important for our workers to operate in a safe environment. We were fortunate coming into this that our companies had on hand the PPE they would need for the normal operations during spring planting season. The challenge is that as everyone sees the need for PPE is whether that supply will be able to be replenished,” Henney said. “A second issue is the directive from the governor around face coverings for workers. I have had a lot of our members contact me in the last 24 hours asking about different situations. We don’t really have a lot of details, though at this point. I encourage employers to supply their employees with face coverings or have employees bring them.”

As more businesses open, the stay-at-home order will remain in effect and Ohioans are encouraged to continue making reasonable, rational decisions about leaving home. The ban on large gatherings of 10 or more people is still prohibited. The following types of establishments are ordered to remain closed due to their increased risk of potential COVID-19 exposure:

  • Schools and daycares
  • Dine-in restaurants and bars (carry-out is still permitted)
  • Personal appearance and beauty businesses
  • Older adult daycare serveries and senior centers
  • Adult day support or vocational rehabilitation services in group settings
  • Entertainment, recreation, and gyms.

Moving forward, there may be a new normal resulting from lessons learned in agribusiness.

“The increased use and comfort level with technology has been a positive. More people are realizing they can function without stopping in at the branch location or going to the bank for a transfer. Enhanced cleaning and sanitation may change moving forward or maybe people will be more serious about calling off sick when they are not feeling well,” Henney said. “In agriculture, we tend to be a friendly bunch and people are looking forward to personal interaction again. We generally have quite a few field days and we hope we can get back to those as well. For now, though, we are going to stay home and stay safe and continue to operate as we need to for spring planting around the state.”

The full Responsible Restart Ohio plan and additional resources can be found at coronavirus.ohio.gov/responsible-restart-ohio/.

 

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