Governor signs Ohio coronavirus immunity bill

Source: Peggy Kirk Hall, OSU

What does H.B. 606 mean for agricultural businesses?

The new law provides certainty that agricultural businesses won’t be assailed by lawsuits seeking damages for COVID-19.  A person claiming harm from exposure to COVID-19 at an agricultural business will only be successful upon a showing that the business acted recklessly and with intentional disregard or indifference to the possibility of COVID-19.  That’s a high evidentiary standard and burden of proof for a claimant. 

It took five months of negotiation, but the Ohio General Assembly has enacted a controversial bill that grants immunity from civil liability for coronavirus injuries, deaths, or losses. Governor DeWine signed House Bill 606 on September 14, stating that it strikes a balance between reopening the economy and keeping Ohioans safe.  The bill will be effective in 90 days.

The bill’s statement of findings and declaration of intent illustrate why it faced disagreement within the General Assembly.  After stating its findings that business owners are unsure of the tort liability they may face when reopening after COVID-19, that businesses need certainty because recommendations on how to avoid COVID-19 change frequently, that individuals who decide to go out in public places should bear responsibility for taking steps to avoid exposure to COVID-19, that nothing in existing Ohio law established duties on business and premise owners to prevent exposure to airborne germs and viruses, and that the legislature has not delegated authority to Ohio’s Executive Branch to create new legal duties for business and premises owners, the General Assembly made a clear declaration of intent in the bill:  “Orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability” and “are presumed to be irrelevant to the issue of the existence of a duty or breach of a duty….and inadmissible at trial to establish proof of a duty or breach of a duty in tort actions.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), refers to it as the “Good Samaritan Expansion Bill.”  That name relates to one of the two types of immunity in the bill, a temporary qualified immunity for coronavirus-based claims against health care providers.  In its original version of H.B. 606, the House of Representatives included only the health care immunity provisions.  Of interest to farms and other businesses are the bill’s general immunity provisions, however, added to the final legislation by the Senate.

General immunity from coronavirus claims

The new law will prohibit a person from bringing a civil action that seeks damages for injury, death or loss to a person or property allegedly caused by exposure to or transmission of coronavirus, with one exception.  The civil immunity does not apply if the exposure to or transmission of coronavirus resulted from a defendant’s “reckless conduct,” “intentional misconduct,” or “willful or wanton misconduct.”  “Reckless conduct” means disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that conduct or circumstances are likely to cause exposure to or transmission of coronavirus and having “heedless indifference” to the consequences.

Government guidelines don’t create legal duties

Consistent with the bill’s stated intent, the new law clarifies that a claimant cannot assert liability based on a failure to follow government guidelines for coronavirus.  The law states that any government order, recommendation or guideline for coronavirus does not create a duty of care that can be enforced through a civil cause of action.  A person may not admit such orders and guidelines as evidence of a legal right, duty of care or new legal cause of action.

No class actions

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Farm animals and COVID-19: Should you be worried?

With the rapid spread of the new coronavirus believed to have started in bats, some people might be genuinely concerned about their farm animals. Could the animals catch COVID-19?

The answer is murky.

While there have been no reported cases of pigs, horses, sheep, chickens, or cows getting COVID-19, their susceptibility to the respiratory disease has yet to be studied.

And though some pigs have been able to get COVID-19 in lab studies, it does not appear that they can catch or spread the virus very easily, said Scott Kenney, an assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Kenney said.

What is known is that ferrets, minks, domestic cats, and some dogs have become infected with COVID-19. But neither pets nor farm animals are thought to play significant roles in transmitting COVID-19.

Kenney, whose research focuses on viruses that spread from animals to people, is pursuing grants with colleagues to study whether various farm animals are susceptible to COVID-19. He will address the risk of animals catching or spreading COVID-19 during “Ask the Expert” presentations Sept. 22–24 at this year’s Farm Science Review, an all-virtual show sponsored by CFAES.

Kenney’s talks will be from 11:40 a.m. to noon on Sept. 22 and from 1:20 to 1:40 p.m. on both Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at fsr.osu.edu.

For the first time in its nearly 60-year history, FSR will be exclusively virtual with livestreaming and prerecorded talks and demonstrations about the latest in research and farm technology. The show is free, but “visitors” must register before they can access all of the presentations.

The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is but one of many viruses in recent years that started in animals, then mutated and adapted so that it could spread to people. Viruses, in general, have been increasingly shifting from animals to people, particularly in the developing world, as people cultivate more and more acres that were once isolated forests and come into contact with wildlife.

While people are currently far more likely to catch COVID-19 from other people—rather than from their farm animals or pets—it’s still important for farm workers to wear masks at work, Kenney said.

And if they are sick, farmers would do best to avoid being around their animals and have someone else work with them instead, if at all possible, he said.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, my animals can’t catch my cold,’ it’s important to consider that these animals could breathe in your virus. It only takes a couple of mutations for these viruses to switch to another species,” Kenney said.

As a farmer moves from one building to another on a farm, washing off boots and using a hand sanitizer before leaving each building would help cut the risk of spreading illnesses, Kenney said.

“More frequent washing means they are less likely to carry germs from one pen to the next or home with them.”

To register or find out more about the offerings at this year’s Farm Science Review, visit fsr.osu.edu.

OHIO DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE PARTNERS WITH OSU EXTENSION TO PROVIDE ONLINE PESTICIDE RECERTIFICATION OPPORTUNITIES

The temporary online trainings during the COVID-19 Pandemic allow applicators and fertilizer certificate holders to meet their continuing education requirements.

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio (June 29, 2020) – During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), is partnering with the Ohio State University Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) to temporarily provide online recertification for pesticide applicators and fertilizer certificate holders whose licenses expired in spring of 2020. The online recertification will be available Monday, July 6. For commercial applicators, it will be available August 10. For more information or to register for the online recertification, visit pested.osu.edu/onlinerecert.

The online option allows private applicators and fertilizer certificate holders due for training by March 31, 2020 and commercial applicators due for training by September 30, 2020 to meet their continuing education requirements. The cost for online training is $35 for private applicators and $10 for fertilizer certification. The price per credit hour for commercial applicators is $15. If you don’t know your license number, please call ODA at 614-728-6987, choose option 1.

Applicators are still required to meet their recertification requirements to renew licenses and certifications. As a result of HB 197, applicators have until 90 days after the emergency is over or December 1, whichever comes first, to complete their requirements. Recertification status can be checked online at https://agri.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/oda/divisions/plant-health/pesticides/recert-search. Applicators must also submit a completed renewal application and pay an additional fee to the ODA for licensure.

For additional information regarding online recertification, please contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture at 614-728-6987, and press 1 for licensing recertification or the OSU Pesticide Safety Education Program at 614-292-4070.

Commercial applicators must earn at least five recertification credit hours every three years, and private applicators must earn at least three recertification credit hours every three years. One hour (60 minutes) must be earned by taking one or more core education classes, one half-hour (30 minutes) of education in each category on the license, and the remaining time requirement can be met by attending classes in any category.

Farm Office Live Webinar Slated for Thursday, June 11 at 9:00 a.m.

OSU Extension is pleased to be offering the a “Farm Office Live” session on Thursday morning, June 11 from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.  Farmers, educators, and ag industry professionals are invited to log-on for the latest updates on the issues impact our farm economy.

The session will begin with the Farm Office Team answering questions asked over the two weeks.  Topics to be highlighted include:

  • Updates on the CARES Act, Payroll Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Update
  • Other legal and economic issues

Plenty of time has been allotted for questions and answers from attendees. Each office session is limited to 500 people and if you miss the on-line office hours, the session recording can be accessed at farmoffice.osu.edu the following day.  Participants can pre-register or join in on Thursday morning at  https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive 

Ohio House passes bill to limit liability for COVID-19 transmissions

Source:  Peggy Hall, OSU Extension

“Will I be liable for that?” is a common question we hear in the legal world.  COVID-19 has made that question even more commonplace, especially as more businesses reopen or expand services and more people reengage in public activities.  About a dozen states have acted on the liability concern and passed COVID-19 liability protections, and Congress is also deliberating whether federal legislation is necessary.  Here in Ohio, the House and the Senate have been reviewing separate immunity proposals.  Yesterday, Ohio’s House passed its bill, which aims to limit liability in certain situations where a person claims harm from the transmission of COVID-19.

The language of House Bill 606 effectively explains the House’s intent in putting forth its proposal, stating that:

  • The Ohio General Assembly is aware that lawsuits related to the COVID-19 health emergency numbering in the thousands are being filed across the country.
  • Ohio business owners, small and large, as they begin to re-open their businesses are unsure about what tort liability they may face, and recommendations regarding how best to avoid infection with COVID-19 change frequently.
  • Businesses and premises owners have not historically been required to keep members of the public from being exposed to airborne viruses, bacteria, and germs.
  • Those individuals who decide to go out into public places are responsible to take those steps they feel are necessary to avoid exposure to COVID-19, such as social distancing and wearing masks.

The House bill declares that for the above reasons, any COVID-19 “orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency, do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability.”

The bill’s reference to not establishing a legal duty in regards to COVID-19 is important, as it forms the basis of immunity from liability for COVID-19 infections.  Under Ohio law, a person who can prove that harm resulted because another failed to meet a required duty of care can make a successful claim of negligence and receive damages for harm caused.  Negating a legal duty of care for handling of COVID-19 removes the possibility of civil liability.

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CFAP Direct Support Webinar May 27

Join OSU Extension’s Ben Brown and Dianne Shoemaker for a webinar  on “Navigating Direct Support for Ohio’s Farmers and Ranchers” on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 9:30 am with special guest, Ohio Farm Service Agency Director Leonard Hubert.  This webinar is generously produced and distributed by Ohio Ag Net.

Go here to access the webinar.

The Basics of Pricing Freezer Beef

Over the last decade the demand for locally raised meats have steadily increased and that demand has skyrocketed as of late, due to the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on animal agriculture and the meat packing sector. With the significant increase of demand in local product we have also seen an increase in the number of producers entering the world of direct marketing. Perhaps the toughest aspect of direct marketing is determining how to set a price. In this article I am going to address that very subject and answer the question: What should I charge for a freezer beef?

There are a couple of ways that we could go about calculating a price but at the end of the day we must know two things: 1) your breakeven price; 2) how much money (profit) you want to make.

To determine a breakeven price, one must know their cost of production. Below are potential factors that should be considered as production expenses on a per head basis.

Whole, Half, and Quarter Beef

Cost of Animal – If the animal was purchased, what did it cost? If home raised, what did it cost to keep a cow for a year?
+ Feed – Value or cost of feedstuffs and mineral that were either produced and purchased.
+ Veterinary – Any vaccinations, dewormer, other medications, veterinary bills.
+ Bedding and Supplies
+ Transport – Fuel, wear and tear on truck and trailer.
+ Advertising – Cost of acquiring a customer.
+ Value of Your Time – Value of time invested on average per head.
= Breakeven cost per head

Once you have calculated a breakeven cost add you desired profit per head and divide that total by the hanging carcass weight to determine a price per pound.

(Breakeven + Profit) / Carcass weight = price per pound.

Profit margin can be flat rate per head or a percentage of the cost of production. Determine a margin that suits your enterprise and your customer.

Often, the customer will want an idea of what the final price per pound is going to be before the animal is harvested in order to make purchasing and storage decisions. Carcass weight can be estimated prior to harvest by estimating dressing percentage. Dressing percentage = (Carcass Weight/Live Weight) *100.

For grain fed, non-dairy type, steers and heifers the average dressing percentage is around 62% and closer to 59% for a dairy steer. Dressing percentage can vary depending on gut fill, muscling, fatness and cleanliness of the hide.

Individual Beef Cuts

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Backup in meat processing leads farmers to painful decisions

The COVID-19 pandemic has led farmers to some excruciating decisions to cut their losses, including euthanizing animals.

There’s a financial toll, for sure, but an emotional one as well.

“They’re cringing,” said Lyda Garcia, an assistant professor of meat science with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). “It really hurts to have to do that.”

With meat processing plants partially or fully closed or backed up with orders, some Ohio farmers who raise pigs and chickens for slaughter are reluctantly turning to reducing their flocks or herds.

It’s not a decision they want to make, nor a decision they ever expected to make.

This is happening amid other hurdles. Commodity prices continue to sink, and just last year, many Midwest farmers could not plant corn or soybeans because of unprecedented rainfall. For some farmers, knowing options to stay financially sound is as important as knowing how to get help for anxiety and emotional slumps.

“The way we explain it is that taking care of yourself, including your mental health, is like changing the oil on your tractor,” said Sarah Noggle, an educator with CFAES’ Ohio State University Extension outreach arm in Paulding County. “If you don’t do it routinely, things become unbalanced.”

And there are many reasons for imbalances now.

In the meat industry, COVID-19 has led to a logjam. Though livestock raised on the farm is ready for market, many meat processors are unable to accept it—at least not at the same pace they had been before the coronavirus arrived in the United States. The pandemic has led to a lot of sickness and time off work at processing plants, and though the nation’s major plants are opening up, shifts are limited.

Ohio has about 400 smaller meat and poultry processing plants, but most have a backlog of orders, some of which are typically funneled to the nation’s largest plants out of state, Garcia said. About 25% of Ohio’s pigs are processed out of state, and trying to find an Ohio meat processor to take them is challenging.

Farmers in Ohio have been forced to euthanize some pigs and chickens primarily because the animals can’t be held on the farm long after they reach market weight without declining seriously in value or losing value entirely, Garcia said.

“The farmers are really upset because this is what they devote their lives to,” Garcia said. “It’s happening frequently enough that many of us are gathering resources for farmers on mental health. This is serious.”

Keeping pigs and chickens on a farm for longer times means they’ll weigh more when they’re sold. But sometimes a processor won’t buy an animal if it’s too large, or the processor will pay the farmer a lot less for the animal because the additional fat could mean it sells for less.

Typically, cattle can be kept a bit longer on the farm after they reach market size and still be OK for sale. But if a cattle producer has to seek out a smaller processor instead of a major one, they often earn less for that meat, Garcia said.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about losing money,” she said.

Most often, farmers with hogs and chickens are eliminating the youngest or unborn in their flocks or herds, rather than the fully grown animals that they’ve already invested in.

Farmers can’t easily donate their livestock to a food bank because it has to be taken to a meat processor, and the processors are backed up with orders for the next six months to a year, Garcia said.

“The farmers have plenty of animals, but nowhere to take them.”

For information on mental health resources, visit u.osu.edu/cphp/ohio-mental-health-resource-guides and u.osu.edu/2019farmassistance/home/.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Alayna DeMartini
614-292-9833
SOURCE(S):

Lyda Garcia
garcia.625@osu.edu

Sarah Noggle
noggle.17@osu.edu
567-344-5013

COVID-19 Impact on Ohio Sheep Producers

Lambs are just one of the many agricultural commodities that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is never a good time for a pandemic to strike, but COVID-19 hit the sheep industry at the traditional best market price. Spring lambs are a family favorite for traditional Easter meals (April 12), Orthodox Easter (April 23), the Muslin feasts of Ramadan (April 23 to May 23), some Jewish sects for Passover (April 8-16), and the secular May 10 Mother’s Day celebration.

America’s biggest market for fresh lamb is in the area from Baltimore to Boston. Major East Coast packers relay on the close location of Ohio producers (Ohio has the 5th most producers in the US) to provide a steady source of fresh lamb. The “white tablecloth restaurants” and the other segments of the food service industry account for greater than 50% of the United State’s lamb consumption. As demand builds back to pre-pandemic levels, Ohio lambs will continue to be a large part of the East coast supply chain.

Ohio Sheep Facts:

  • Lamb price from United Producers in Mt. Vernon, Ohio collection point (weekly – low and high prices are recorded, and the average number is used for these calculations). The dollar price represented is lost value in market decline from March 13 to April 10 sales. The gross revenue for each lamb has dropped 25% from the lamb market value in early March.
    • Finished lambs (131 lbs.) – (0.47 cwt X 131) = $61.50
    • Roaster lambs (60 lbs.) – (0.45 cwt X 60) = $27
    • Hair lambs (80 lbs.) – (0.30 cwt X 80) = $24
    • Aged sheep (average of 150 lbs.) – (0.30 cwt X 150) = $45
  • Producer questions have generally been directed to the decision to sell Easter lambs at this time or add additional weight and sell them later in the fall. Each case will need to be evaluated on an individual basis and will depend on resources and financial stability.
  • Club lamb and breeding stock producers are selling their sheep privately or through online sales. Quality animals are being sold at expected values.
  • Ohio lamb feeders have been able to move their contracted lambs, but non-contracted market lambs are not able to be sold.

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