Apr 7, 2020
Farm worker documentation stressed amid essential nature of agriculture

Reports have been circulating online – originating primarily in surrounding states, suggestive of potential conflicts between law enforcement officers and farm workers during these times of restricted travel. Thus far, situations like this have not been reported to have occurred in Pennsylvania.

Russell Redding

To alleviate enterprise owner, grower, and worker concerns, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding has communicated to the other branches of the government the essential nature of agriculture to the vitality of the Commonwealth. While specific details of the government’s commitment to various sectors of the agricultural community are continually being reevaluated, the governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) have made it clear to all that agricultural operations must continue.

In addition to the recommendations issued by the PDA, the Secretary states that there is currently no required documentation for designated life-sustaining industries to travel. This information is current as of April 6, 2020. It is subject to change or modification by subsequent action by the Secretary or Governor.

If your workers would be more reassured of their protected status by carrying some form of physical documentation, the Secretary suggests that business owners could take the following proactive steps:

  1. Issue a letter on appropriate business letterhead stating that agriculture has been designated a life-sustaining industry during the COVID-19 crisis by the Commonwealth. Indicate that the bearer of this letter is conducting business associated with your agricultural operation.
  2. Print and include with that letter a copy of the official PDA Guidance document “Essential Businesses for a Safe Food Supply.”
  3. Instruct employees to keep a copy of these two documents in their vehicle or other forms of transport at all times, and to present them if questioned.

“The value of the letter is two-fold, it signals to each employee their importance and in the event a question is raised they feel comfortable responding in the affirmative”, says Secretary Redding.

Again, at the time of this writing, neither of these documents are required for a worker to travel.

Employees should also maintain the usual necessary documents to indicate their employment status, such as company ID badges and other forms of government-issued identification. Even Extension employees are encouraged to keep their Penn State ID cards on hand at all times should questions arise when conducting a site visit.

For further information, visit the PDA’s COVID website which has a wealth of materials on safely conducting business and Penn State Extension’s COVID-19 website .

Daniel Weber, Penn State University

Photo: USDA


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