‘There is no playbook for this’
During a town hall meeting led by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig took the chance to speak out about some of the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and agriculture in our state with an update from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in regards to what some of the external things they are focused on and watching.
“We are certainly in unprecedented times,” he said. “There is no playbook for this and we are learning something new every day. That’s how we start each day. We get our incident team together and then we adapt to those things.”
Naig said the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is available to assist growers and agribusinesses with issues they may have concerning the upcoming spring season and encourages anyone to reach out to them for guidance.
Although the majority of his staff begun working remotely almost three weeks ago that doesn’t mean his department is lacking.
“We are focused on maintaining, and delivering business critical services and doing food safety and animal health inspections,” he said.
For example, Naig said there has been an increase in demand at Iowa’s meat lockers.
“That is a good thing and certainly expected and we need to be on site with those folks when those activities are occurring. That is an example of where we are continuing to focus on food safety,” he said. “And animal health – now is not a time to take our foot off the gas when it comes to preventing foreign animal disease and making sure we are doing the right things from a biosecurity standpoint.”
Conservation is another area that is still thriving within the department.
“That is one of the things we can do while observing social isolation requirements and recommendations,” he said. “So, know that work continues and if you are interested in talking with somebody, I encourage you to get on the phone and visit with our USDA team or department of ag team or the district staff as well.”
Naig said, externally, they are really focused on continually promoting, defending and protecting the food and agriculture supply chain as being an essential and critical infrastructure.
“Even in this public health emergency it’s just really important that everything from moving the inputs you all need to go to the field here this month, all the way down to the line to the processing facilities and manufacturing facilities and trucks that deliver food to grocery stores and hands putting supplies on shelves and checking out as well – are all critical hands, all critical people,” he said. “Those are the folks that are going out when the rest of us are sheltering in place at home – these are the essential workforce that is going out and we appreciate that.”
Naig said so far, that supply chain is strong.
“We have had a chance to test that the last couple of days — there was a window for some fieldwork,” he said. “We are hearing whether it is fuel, feed, seed — things are moving right on schedule and that’s a good thing.”
However, if there would be a disruption in the workforce that could be a huge issue.
“Workforce would be our No. 1 challenge or issue if we have absenteeism and people are sick and can’t go to work. It disrupts the supply chain and that’s a problem,” he said. “I really commend the employers that have been working to protect their workforce and ensure they can stay healthy and keep things moving.”
Shelter in place
Iowa is currently not under order as a shelter in place state, whereas others surrounding us are. Naig said it is important we watch shelter in place orders given in other states that the critical infrastructure of the agricultural and food supply chain continues.
Naig shared his support for Iowa Gov. Reynolds and her decisions to not make Iowa a shelter in place state.
“There’s an almost irrational call for a shelter in place order and she has done a tremendous job explaining why this approach is an Iowa approach that fits Iowa’s circumstance,” he said. “We are not California, we are not New York, we are not Illinois and don’t push us to respond in ways that deal with their situations. That’s not how this works. Responses like this are locally led, federally supported and the governor is doing a tremendous job.”
Naig pointed out the governor has also made an act on hours or service waivers as well as weight limit waivers for trucks. She also recently made a proclamation to waive some of the rules around pesticide testing.
“If you still need a private pesticide or commercial pesticide applicator certification, we can now do that online for the duration of this emergency,” he said adding those that want to re-certify can do so by visiting iowaagriculture.gov for more information.
Naig suggested following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and recommendations as COVD-19 continues to spread throughout our state.
“As I look at the map today, where we have COVID-19 confirmed cases across the state of Iowa, it is very easy to see this is just not a thing that is happening in Linn, Johnson, Polk or Dallas counties — the numbers are high there, but this is happening all across the state,” he said. “I encourage each one of you to take the CDC and the Department of Public Health’s recommendations very seriously. Taking care of yourselves and taking care of each other will be the best way to get through this as quickly as possible and that will be the only way we can minimize impact on our market and our economy.”
National Ag Week
National Ag Week was recognized recently, and Naig said one of the goals during that time is to work to help the American people understand the importance and value of U.S. agriculture.
“I think we had a chance that week and we are getting a chance in subsequent weeks to remind the American people how critically important food and agriculture is and how fortunate we are, in this country, that we do have the safest, most affordable, most abundant food supply in the world, and it’s not by accident,” he said. “It’s because we have invested in that and that’s why folks should care. Whether you live on the east or west coast or urban center, you should care how the agriculture community’s doing. How farmers are doing. How agribusinesses are doing and we are getting a chance to be reminded of that in very, very real ways right now.”