– The House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), held an informational meeting Wednesday to discuss impacts on the agriculture industry due to COVID-19 and lessons learned as a result of those impacts.
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Chris Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries, offered remarks and took questions from members of the committee.
“No industry is more important from a ‘life-sustaining’ perspective than our agriculture industry, and while there have certainly been challenges along the way, I am proud of the work our farmers and processors have done over the last three months,” Causer said. “I think we have learned some valuable lessons about weaknesses in our food chain and the importance of increased processing capacity that we can work on moving forward.”
Redding explained food supply chain issues arose shortly after the state-at-home order was issued by the governor, as many people started “panic-buying” staples such as milk, eggs, meat and more. Shelves at many stores were sparse or empty because while the food supply was strong, the processing capabilities were hampered by needing to quickly transition from processing a majority of foods for institutional uses to consumer uses. The main challenge was a lack of consumer-sized packaging.
Herr noted that processors essentially had to flip from operating with 70% of product going for food service uses and 30% to consumer uses to 70% consumer and 30% food service.
Both agreed the issue has improved significantly, as have conditions in the state’s meat processing plants. They indicated lessons learned there about helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will need to be applied later this year when it comes time to harvest the state’s sizable fruit and vegetable crops.
Other issues discussed during the meeting included milk dumping, euthanizing chickens and how to prevent these issues and ensure any oversupply of food is “rescued” and made available through the state’s food bank system; guidance, or lack thereof, for county fairs and businesses in counties transitioning to green; status of horseracing; and assistance for mushroom farmers.
Watch the meeting here.
Representative Martin T. Causer
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia A. Hippler