When restaurants started closing their doors because of COVID-19 in March, Tom Hertzfeld scrambled to find homes for many of the eggs sold through his family business, Hertzfeld Poultry Farms in northwestern Ohio. Some were shifted from going to restaurants to retail stores. Other producers around the state donated their eggs to food banks, helped by a $1 million increase in funding of the Agricultural Clearance Program, which purchases Ohio-made commodities like eggs and milk.
Looking back, Hertzfeld described that spring as a blur of frantic activity and uncertainty for the family which has been involved in egg production for more than 60 years in Grand Rapids. Not only was Hertzfeld responsible for the well-being of his hens but his 85-90 employees who relied on him for a paycheck as well as sufficient personal protective equipment to stay safe while working during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the farm’s hens, oblivious to the chaos caused by COVID-19, continued to lay eggs daily.
“We were overburdened with eggs. We found ways to move them but at low cost,” said Hertzfeld, a Wood County Farm Bureau member. “We were dealing with the effects of the pandemic every day and focused on keeping our business rolling forward. We didn’t have the resources to reach out to the legislature on how we needed help. That’s where we relied on Farm Bureau, the Ohio Poultry Association and others to get us (the information) we needed to get through this.”
The support that Ohio Farm Bureau helped secure for Hertzfeld and other poultry producers was diverse. During the early days of the pandemic when personal protective equipment was scarce, Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Poultry Association served on an Ohio Department of Agriculture task force to help farmers and agricultural producers obtain PPE. Farm Bureau worked with business groups to pass legislation to provide businesses protection from lawsuits for contracting or being exposed to COVID-19. Ohio Farm Bureau was a member of Gov. Mike DeWine’s county fair task force, which established guidelines on how livestock/poultry junior fair shows could safely operate during a pandemic. At the national level, Farm Bureau pushed for direct payments to farmers to partially offset COVID-related losses. The result was $24 billion made available to producers through the two federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs.
“I appreciate all Farm Bureau has done for our industry and am more appreciative of Farm Bureau nowadays. They’ve always been there for us, but it feels like even more so this year because there’s so much going on right now,” said Hertzfeld, who is current president of the United Egg Producers and former president of the Ohio Poultry Association.
2 Chicks, LLC
That sentiment is shared by Andy and Mamie Hollenback, who have a farm about 30 miles northeast of downtown Columbus. The Licking County Farm Bureau members have a registered Hereford, row crop, hay and chicken operation. Mamie runs 2 Chicks, LLC, which is their fertile egg laying facility for Case Farms Hatchery. When they first added the chickens to the farm in 2014, they wanted an extra layer of protection from frivolous lawsuits and reached out to Ohio Farm Bureau for information about agricultural districts. Obtaining this designation, which is valid for five years, helps protect them from nuisance lawsuits.
“I grew up in Licking County and remember there were so many complaints (decades ago) about a certain chicken operation’s flies and pollution that I knew once we announced we were building a chicken complex, that people would automatically go there. Having that protection as an ag district is important to us especially as more people move out to the country,” Andy Hollenback said.
Today, the Hollenbacks have three barns with a total of about 45,000 birds, which produce 30,000 eggs per day. Case Farms, which comes twice a week to pick up the eggs that will be raised as meat chickens in its hatchery, has approached the Hollenbacks about expanding their operation. The couple isn’t ready to take that step yet but are glad to know their business can continue to grow and be sustainable enough to support their children, Arthur, 13, and Bryce, 11, if they decide to go into the family business.
Farm Bureau benefits
Both Andy and Mamie are invested in Ohio Farm Bureau and their community. Mamie is on the Licking County Soil and Water Conservation Board while Andy is past president of the county Farm Bureau, on the local school board and a graduate of AgriPOWER, Farm Bureau’s elite leadership training program. They’ve taken advantage of a number of Farm Bureau benefits including the workers’ compensation group rating program, $300 off a Case hay baler and supply discounts through Grainger.
“We go to a lot of Farm Bureau events and there’s a lot of camaraderie built because you’re meeting with people who have similar interests and goals,” Andy Hollenback said. “We’re made a lot of friends through Farm Bureau.”
As the executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association, Jim Chakeres has worked with Ohio Farm Bureau over the years on a wide range of issues and helped educate the public about the value of agriculture to those visiting Ohio Farm Bureau’s Land and Living exhibit at the Ohio State Fair.
“We’re fortunate that the ag groups in Ohio work together and that we have that relationship,” said Chakeres, whose organization represents more than 600 egg, chicken and turkey farmers in the state. “I think Ohio Farm Bureau plays a big role in that since it’s the largest farm organization in Ohio.”
Being a good egg
In 2020 egg producers across the United States donated more than 46 million eggs to food banks, helping feed almost 4 million families. When laid end-to-end, the eggs span more than half the length of the United States from east to west.
Source: American Egg Board