By MetroNews Staff
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt admits the pandemic is putting agriculture around West Virginia in tough spots but says industry continue to work through it.
Leonhardt appeared on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and touched on a variety of topics surrounding agriculture and COVID-19. He said he is proud of everything going on including livestock markets continuing to take place.
“The markets have had to limit the number of people that go in the barns. They are practicing social distancing but our markets are still in operation and we are keeping the ag industry in West Virginia moving,” he said.
“I am very proud of my staff. They have been tremendous through all this. They have had to adjust and change.”
Leonhardt said he is disappointed that some fairs with livestock markets won’t be able to be put on this spring, summer and fall. He said some tele-auctions are being held for students in 4H who have worked to raise livestock for this period in time.
Many fairs and festivals around the state that involve local agriculture have been moved including the 79th West Virginia Strawberry Festival, Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival in Ohio County and The Vandalia Gathering.
“Some of these things like the entertainment and carnival rides, they are all drop-dead dates. Fair boards are going to have to make a decision on whether they want to cancel a fair or not,” Leonhardt said on the tough decisions ahead.
Leonhardt added other tough decisions in the process have been with farmers’ markets. He said after discussions with state and local leaders, most are open with certain restrictions.
“Early on I talked to Governor (Justice) about keeping the farmers’ markets open and he agreed,” Leonhardt said. “We put out guidance to the farmers’ markets and sometimes it’s taken one-on-one conversations with the local health departments to get things moving.”
Food inspections, dairy inspections and meat processing are all at normal rates, according to Leonhardt. He also said food banks across the state have the necessary food to meet demands but could always use more food and more help.
“If I can encourage folks out there to get to your local pantry, food pantry and volunteer. They need our help,” he said.
“That’s the biggest issue. With the increased demand, they need more help getting the food out there to the people.”
There is a COVID-19 resource page on the Department of Agriculture’s website that includes guides on farmers’ markets, local foods, rural resources, and livestock, along with press releases on updates.