By Matt Reese
It has been made very clear by the DeWine Administration that Ohio agriculture is essential because of the vital importance of farmers and their service to society. But, during these challenging times, it is also important to remember those who serve Ohio’s essential farmers.
There has been plenty mentioned about getting take-out to support your local favorite dining hotspots that may be feeling a real pinch right now. It is just as important to remember other parts of the service and supply chains that allow Ohio’s essential farmers to do what they do during the coronavirus measures taken by the state and the Stay at Home Order.
“I just want to thank our customers for shopping here and supporting us,” said Larry Goodman, manager of the Rural King in Marion. “At first, for probably the first week and a half, it was off the hook here, very busy. Business has slowed down greatly since those first two weeks. Then we had the Stay at Home Order and now we are back at maybe 10% business less than normal. People are still out shopping for their essentials. They are getting things for their yards, gardens and farms. It might not seem essential for some people, but for people who make their living off of it, these things are definitely essential.”
There were some initial challenges with the supply chain keeping up with demand, but things have stabilized now.
“In the first initial rush we definitely had some issues with the necessities. We are getting things back in stock now. Toilet paper is still a struggle, but water, feed, pet food, and the other necessities we are getting more regularly in stock now and keeping up — we’re keeping up on everything but toilet paper,” Goodman said. “We are trying to keep everything safe for the associates and the customers. We have a checklist for a person who goes around the store every hour and cleans off every touch surface throughout the store, including restrooms, sinks, toilets, doors, and the shopping carts. We also have a table set up with bleach water and paper towels where you can wipe your cart off.”
The Marion Rural King store hours are the same as always, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., though 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. is reserved for customers 60 years old and older.
Cooperatives and other agricultural retailers too have changed the way business is being conducted, but they are still maintaining their vital role in the farm supply chain. Sunrise Cooperative, for example, has reduced the total amount of staff members at various facilities at any given time, but continues to get products where they need to be by delivering products early, adding electronic payment accounts, scheduling appointments for pick-up, or directly loading into customer vehicles. The effort has required some planning, preparation and cooperation from the Sunrise staff, board members and customers but has been working well as planting season approaches. Sunrise president/CEO George Secor has been giving regular video updates to customers as the situation has unfolded.
“With 40% to 45% of our crew here we are still facilitating a lot of business. We are open for business. We just have to do it this new way. Hopefully once we get through all this we can get back to shaking hands and all the things that we always do when we see you, but right now we can’t do that,” Secor said in a video message. “All those procedures we are going through are working well.”
Kalmbach Feeds is maintaining operations with some changes as well.
“We are currently operating at maximum capacity, and intend to continue, to meet the surge in demand we have experienced. Our industry is classified as essential, and is not at high risk of a government-ordered shutdown. We have taken extra precautions to protect our facilities and team members to ensure that we operate without disruption,” the feed company said in a statement. “Because this surge in demand has happened so quickly, we are working hard to catch up. You can help by continuing to buy our products in your normal quantities. Rest assured, our products continue to ship throughout our system every day of every week. We appreciate your patience and support!”
Across the state, farms will not be shutting down this spring while much of society grinds to a halt. Hopefully, though, farmers will take some time and use some extra patience to support those other businesses that are going to great lengths to operate in challenging circumstances to continue to serve Ohio’s essential agriculture.