With Montana Governor Steve Bullock issuing the stay-at-home directive on Thursday, a lot of questions have been raised on what it means for the ag industry. Will I be able to hold my annual bull sale? Can I fire up the tractor to plant this year’s crops? Will I be able to pick up feed for my animals and pets? The short answer is yes.

According to the governor’s office, starting at 12:01 AM on March 28, 2020, non-essential business and operations are to cease until April 10, 2020. This however does not include agriculture as the industry is considered critical infrastructure. In the governor’s directive, essential businesses and operations include grocery stores, pharmacies, food and beverage production, media, gas stations and businesses needed for transportation, hardware and supply stores and agriculture just to name a few. Included in the governor’s directive under agriculture:

  • production, processing, and cultivation, including farming, livestock and other production agriculture including cultivation, marketing, production, and wholesale or retail distribution of animals and goods for consumption.
  • businesses that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for animals, including veterinary and animal health services.
  • businesses that provide equipment, transportation, seed, feed, fertilizer, or other products or services critical to food and livestock production.

The directive description follows suit with the US Department of Homeland Security who also deems food and agriculture essential. They emphasize farm workers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically. The department also include transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants, renders, and associated regulatory and government workforce.

It’s important to keep in mind the US Department of Homeland Security states, these identified sectors and workers are not intended to be the authoritative or exhaustive list of critical infrastructure sectors and functions that should continue during the COVID-19 response. Instead, State and local officials should use their own judgment in using their authorities and issuing implementation directives and guidance.

Governor Bullock adds, businesses deemed essential are required to comply with social distancing guidelines when possible including maintaining six feet of distance, having sanitizing products available, and designating hours of operation specifically for vulnerable populations.

Montana seedstock producers are in the thick of the bull sale season, so there’s been concern that sales would be cancelled. Northern Ag Network reached out to the Montana Department of Agriculture and Board of Livestock Executive Director Mike Honeycutt who told us that the department has directed local government to permit all livestock sales to continue. They’ve consulted with other states that have implemented the shelter-in-place order and all are continuing with sales.

The department did provide guidance to livestock markets to restrict access to only those who are healthy and are either employees or active bidders. Everyone who attends the sale should sign-in with the phone number, in case an attendee is affected by COVID-19. Of course social distancing is encouraged for everyone and the department asks that everyone refrains from serving food or drinks. Business owners are also advised to sanitize public spaces and eliminate areas that encourage social congregation.

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Northern Ag Network – 2020

The Office of the Governor MT

Department of Homeland Security 

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