State agriculture commissioner deems livestock markets ‘vital’

By Crystal Burns

 

Trenton’s sale barn will remain open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but owner Darrell Ridgely is taking extra precautions to keep buyers, sellers, and staff safe, he and his attorney have assured city leaders.

Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M, Tennessee commissioner of agriculture, sent a letter dated March 27 to livestock market managers, calling the markets “vital to ensure a safe and steady food supply,” but said, “This is not business as usual.”

Hatcher urged managers to follow recommendations from the Tennessee Livestock Marketing Association, national Livestock Marketing Association, Tennessee Farm Bureau Foundation, National Cattleman’s Beef Association, and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Recommendations include allowing only one bidder per business or family on site, prohibiting people from congregating, prohibiting spectators, restricting access to the ring area, asking consignors to drop off livestock and leave the facility, allowing bidding online and/or over the phone, and communicating new policies with staff and the public.

“This is a serious situation for our nation and our industry,” Hatcher wrote. “Biosecurity is a longstanding practice in agriculture and we fully understand how important it is to immediately control a disease outbreak. We can work together to maintain our strong commitment to health.”

Mayor’s executive order

Trenton Mayor Ricky Jackson signed an executive order March 24, closing the brick-and-mortar premises of all non-essential retail businesses in the city limits, but stores are still allowed to provide curbside/delivery services. While livestock markets were not listed as essential businesses, the order does state, “Nothing in this order shall be construed to limit, prohibit, or restrict in any way the operations of manufacturing or critical infrastructure sectors as defined by Department of Homeland Security.”

Ridgley’s attorney, G. Keith Alley, responded to the mayor’s executive order, stating that Ridgley’s weekly livestock auctions held every Wednesday in Trenton qualify as critical infrastructure under the guidelines issued by Homeland Security. He also noted that Ridgely would follow all recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as his own extra precautions to protect employees, buyers, and sellers from transmitting COVID-19.

In a phone interview with the Gazette on Tuesday, March 31, Jackson said he was comfortable with the precautions, which included only permitting individuals seeking to purchase or sell livestock into the barn, admitting only one person per family unit to the barn at a time, prohibiting children under the age of 18 from entering, prohibiting employees and attendees from congregating in the break room, allowing only two people in the office area at a time, delivering customer checks to the customer’s vehicle in the parking lot or mailing to their home/business, registering all buyers with bidder cards, and asking sellers to remain in their vehicles at all times while employees unload the seller’s cattle trailer and complete all necessary paperwork.

Ridgley Auction Livestock Sales

Ridgley operates his Ridgely Auction Livestock Sales at 411 E. Eaton Street in Trenton in what is colloquially known as the sale barn.

“We’re just trying to follow the government’s rules,” Ridgely said. “I don’t want to make the public sick, and this is not about money. This is about food supply. We’re just trying to do our part to keep the food chain going.”

Ridgely said his company was already working to build its online sales capability and has done about 10% to 20% in sales online over the past three weeks. Ridgely said it would take time to build up a big enough pool of buyers to auction livestock online only, and that some buyers would always prefer to see the cattle in person.

Ridgely also owns Ridgely Auction & Realty and has suspended real estate auctions while offering online only auctions for some personal property, he said.

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