Dairy farmers deemed essential; small farms look to survive lockdown

Posted at 5:13 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-29 11:57:33-04

GREEN, Ohio — Cows are the Hartong family business. For three generations, Matt Hartong's family has kept cows in a building built in 1911.

"We milk about 120 cows and we have about 200 in total," Hartong said, standing outside the pasture gate.

He knows raising cows takes time.

The night before his News 5 interview, three calves were born on the farm. Cows are on their own schedule.

"The cows need to be milked," he said. "They need to be fed; multiple times a day, every single day."

And during the coronavirus pandemic, that schedule doesn't deviate.

"Whether I'm sick or not, I have to be here," Hartong said. "I have to feed cows, I have to milk cows because the cows don't get sick."

When Governor Mike DeWine announced a mandatory stay at home order for the state, he also released a list of "essential services." The list is curated by the Department of Homeland Security and names agriculture as an industry that can continue.

Hartong knows keeping the farm's schedule is important.

"As far as dairy markets go, it's an extremely volatile market," he said.

For the past few years, Hartong and his family watched their industry change.

"We're the last dairy farm in the county, in Summit County," Hartong said. "In the short term, we've been deemed an essential business. Hopefully the impact is very little."

Without the disruption to their daily routine, Hartong is able to keep his farm running like clockwork. The cows are milked twice a day; once at 3:30 a.m. and again at 3:30 p.m.

But, while farms in the state are still able to run, they have to adhere to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control.

"And, I'm not going to tell you it's business as usual," said Ty Higgins. "But, being an essential part of the food system does allow producers to continue with their business."

Higgins works for the Ohio Farm Bureau. He said he wants consumers to remember that agriculture is chain. And if one part of the chain breaks, it could mean slower delivery to markets or loss of product.

When shelves emptied out, milk went fast. "In agriculture we were concerned about, maybe, the way the consumer was thinking," Higgins said. "But I think this proves that what we're doing on the farm is still so valuable to not only our consumers but their diets as well."

The stay at home order is expected to end on April 6. However, DeWine hasn't ruled out the possibility of extending it. If the order goes on longer, Higgins said farmers will remain an essential service. "Because the only thing we all need, despite the economy, is our three meals a day."