Pennsylvania's Agricultural and Food Supply Systems
With agriculture and its products being life sustaining, the Department of Agriculture has encouraged food production and processing operations to continue. The Wolf Administration is working diligently with partners across the industry spectrum, from the charitable food system to the farm markets and sustainable agriculture associations, to individual sectors including dairy, pork, beef, and poultry to keep the supply chain functioning and get products to consumers who need them.
In Pennsylvania, one does not have to look very far to see the great impact of agriculture in every community across the commonwealth. Agriculture generates employment and economic activity on nearly 53,000 farms and across all 67 counties and supports one in every ten jobs in Pennsylvania across many industries. Our agricultural industry is rooted in a number of strengths that it can build from in responding to threats and opportunities. The diversity and quality of crops and producers, smaller farms, a mix of conventional and organic farming practices, rich soil, a strong farming tradition strengthened by our nation-leading farmland preservation program and good foundation of agricultural infrastructure will enable producers and manufacturers to respond to the challenges we face in the COVID 19 pandemic.
Our diverse and innovative agricultural industry has made the commonwealth the national leader in food-processing companies, with more than 2,300 operating across the state. Food and beverage processing and manufacturing includes all industries related to the processing of crops and animals, including pork, poultry, beef, as well as sheep, lamb, and goat processing, dairy product manufacturing, fruit and vegetable preserving, oils, chocolate, cereals, and juices, and food manufacturing, such as bread, nut butter, pasta, syrup, and other snack food manufacturing in addition to coffee, tea, beer, soft drink, and beer, spirits, and wine manufacturing. The strength of the food-processing sector supports Pennsylvania’s leading-state status in the value of shipments of canned fruit and vegetable specialty products, chocolate and cocoa products, potato chips, and pretzels.
A cornerstone of Pennsylvania’s strong farming history has been direct-to-consumer sales through on-farm sales and farmers markets. These venues are an example of the strength and diversity of Pennsylvania agriculture, offering fresh, local, vital essentials straight to consumers. On-farm stands and farmers markets provide a crucial source of income for producers, support regional food system resiliency, and ensure equitable fresh food access.
In addition to traditional farms across the commonwealth, Pennsylvania’s community gardens and urban farms are critical pieces of our commonwealth's food and agriculture system. Many of these gardens and urban farms fill a void by addressing food deserts and providing workforce development opportunities in communities across Pennsylvania. They’re critical to curbing food insecurity and addressing food apartheid, which is the lack of availability of healthy food disproportionally affecting communities of color. The administration’s COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity, led by Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, was formed to identify how the pandemic is affecting the state’s minority and vulnerable populations. Food insecurity and a lack of availability of healthy foods can cause health conditions that place affected Pennsylvanians at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
Pennsylvania’s charitable food network has been working in overdrive to meet the unprecedented demand. Included in this network are Pennsylvania’s large regional food banks who partner with nearly 3,000 local food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other feeding programs to serve more than two million of our neighbors in need every year.
Causes of Strain on the Food System
Food distribution sites must take significant measures to avoid the spread of the illness and/or combat it if it arises.
Supply Chain Challenges
The charitable food network requires consumer-sized goods for packing boxes, yet those products are hard to source as the pandemic has caused increased demand, and even hoarding, in grocery stores.
As need increases, there is building pressure on the food banks, schools, grocery stores, farmers markets and other entities working to feed their communities.
Lack of Cold Storage
As distribution strategies shift and supply chain shortages cause the system to pivot to available foods, more cold storage is needed at both regional food banks and local food pantries.
Because of health concerns, stay-at-home orders, and more, volunteers and staff members are in high demand within the food supply chain and the charitable food network. These essential workers are at higher-risk of exposure to COVID-19, as these jobs cannot be done remotely.
Support for Pennsylvania's Agriculture and Food System
Ensure safety of workers and product throughout the food supply chain
The Wolf Administration has continued to work to secure the stability of the food supply, increase market opportunities, protect the workforce, and ensure food is plentiful and accessible. The Department of Agriculture has advised food production and processing operations to adhere to the following guidance to minimize risk, maintain a healthy workforce, and ensure the safety of food:
Farms and On-Farm Deliveries: The Department of Agriculture provided recommendations for limited exposure such as identifying drop off locations for regular deliveries, logging deliveries and on-farm entries, protecting the workforce, maintaining regular cleaning and sanitation, and writing a continuity of business plan to prepare if the farm operator becomes ill or needs to be isolated, so that farm operations can continue.
Farmers Markets and On-Farm Markets: The Department of Agriculture provided recommendations for delivery and pick-up, methods for contactless shopping experiences, and decreasing crowds. The guidance outlines the opportunity for farms to open an on-farm stand to sell raw produce, eggs, or shelf stable packaged foods such as jams, jellies, or baked goods.
Seasonal Farm Worker Safety Guidance: The Department of Agriculture issued guidance to outline best practices to maintain the health and safety of seasonal farm workers, including those working under the federal H2A guest worker program.
Guidance for Food Processing Facilities: The Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) guided Pennsylvania's food processing facilities through recommendations to ensure their workforce remains healthy, reduces outbreaks, and maintains continuity of operations. The guidance includes separate recommendations for facilities in areas with widespread transmission and limited transmission, as well as steps facilities should immediately implement to screen employees and reduce risk.
Groceries and Convenience Stores: The Department of Agriculture has worked with the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association and directly with stakeholders to communicate with operators of grocery stores and other retail food facilities the importance of adherence to the department's guidance and Secretary Levine's worker safety order. The guidance includes both mandatory and recommended customer protective controls, employee protective controls, facility sanitation procedures, and advice to managers.
Procedures for Sanitization and Diagnosed Employees: The Department of Health and Department of Agriculture provided both mandatory and recommended guidance to employers to protect employees and customers from COVID-19. Once an employee is diagnosed, it's critical to follow this guidance and the worker safety order to prevent further spread to other individuals. There is no evidence of COVID-19 being spread through food or food packaging.
Regionalized Priority COVID-19 Testing for Food Supply Workforce: As a direct result of agriculture and the entire food supply chain being life sustaining, combined with hot spots of COVID-19 in processing facilities, any symptomatic adult working in agriculture – including but not limited to those working in processing and manufacturing facilities, food warehouses, grocery stores, and on-farm labor (seasonal farm labor and H2A guest workers included) is approved to receive priority testing if they live and/or work in Montgomery County or northeast Pennsylvania.
DCED Business to Business Portal for PPE: The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development created a portal to connect Pennsylvania businesses seeking PPE and related items with resources, and this has been shared with the food industry.
Ensure federal support for Pennsylvania's agriculture industry
Governor Wolf urged the USDA to support the agricultural producers, food processors, workers, and local food systems, regardless of size of operation, after the passage of the federal CARES Act, which included $9.5 billion in funding to distribute across dairy, livestock and poultry, specialty crop sectors, horticulture, and restaurants.