By John Shutske
Farming is chock-full of risk. Storms, fires, floods, droughts, and injuries fill newspapers every week and cost hundreds of millions in damage. While I worked on this article, I had a dairy farmer friend who experienced major damage from violent winds, and a big fire damaged two-thirds of a large Wisconsin organic milk cooperative.
What should we do? Should we chalk it up to bum luck and resign ourselves to the phenomenon that "bad stuff just happens?"
Bad things will happen – but the consequences of a "predictable emergency" can be managed. We often talk about disasters. But, disasters are usually the result of a predictable emergency gone awry. And, the biggest factor that determines whether or not an emergency becomes a disaster is a speedy response. On a farm, a response that occurs in minutes or hours versus days (or weeks) will mean the difference between a recoverable event, and a disaster that brings ruin.
How do you prepare?
How can you insure that you have done everything in your power to save precious time after something unexpected strikes? Here are steps that can make a huge difference.
1. Make a list of events that could cause harm to your faming business. This is a great exercise to engage family members or employees. Which are most likely? Which would cause the greatest damage? In Wisconsin, we often see floods, windstorms, fires, and other naturally-occurring and manmade events.
2. Pick one of these and talk through what an event might look like. Wind storms often cause a power outage. How would that affect your operation? How about the well-being of animals? Perhaps you would have damage to feed storage structures or animal housing. Maybe your house would be unlivable, though you'd still need a place to rest as you keep the farm going. Perhaps your computer system and financial records would be damaged or lost. Again, it's important to step through and imagine the consequences. These things do happen, and you'll want to be creative as you prepare.
3. Based on the outcomes you've imagined, make a list of the supplies needed immediately to recover and keep things operating. Examples include a generator, extra tools, fire extinguishers, gasoline, a backup feed and water supply, a small stockpile of building supplies, etc. As you think about supplies, consider items your family would need to survive for three days. It's hard to recover and get back on your feet without food, water, cooking supplies, lighting, and a source of heat. Even people in the city are encouraged to keep supplies on hand to be self-sufficient for 72 hours if they encounter an unexpected disaster! Your employees should be encouraged to do the same.