Wisconsin pork producers - Take time to prepare for the unexpected
A commentary by John Shutske, program director and Associate Dean for Ag and Natural Resources Extension, Madison.
Pork producers, their families, and employees face a wide array of naturally-occurring and manmade risks that include severe weather, fire, animal disease, worker injuries, and other events.
As we've learned with severe weather in many parts of the country this spring, bad things do happen. Often, the real difference between an emergency and a devastating "disaster" is time.
And, saving time is about being well-prepared, anticipating the types of things that could happen, and taking actions that will make a difference.
Here are a few specific actions producers can take:
1. Spend some time with your employees, family members, business partners, or others with a vested interest in your operation to make a prioritized list of the "most likely to occur emergencies" that could affect your farm.
We know, for example, that every spring and summer, we will see bouts of severe weather. Depending on where you live, your biggest threats might be tornadoes, flooding or blizzards.
Or, depending on the size, scale and details of your operation, you might be particularly concerned with an animal disease, fire, or a workplace injury to a worker or family member.
The key is to anticipate and pick one or two "events" that you can develop a solid plan around. Concentrate on events most likely to occur and also those that would have the greatest impact on your swine operation.
2. Once you've picked a high-probability and high-severity event, step through (or even role-play) how such an event might unfold and what specific actions would be required.
For example, many severe weather events result in power outages. Buildings or equipment might need quick repair to get back up onto your feet to keep animals fed, watered, and healthy.
Or, if a tornado hit and you have young children in the household, you might need a couple days of emergency childcare, since it's likely to be "all hands on deck" for a few days.
3. Based on the scenario and the needs you identify, make a detailed list of the equipment, supplies, and information you would need to be able to resume operations and restore your farm to "normal."
Don't forget things like a few gallons of fuel to get backup generators up and running; batteries for flashlights; basic tools and building supplies; etc.
Make sure your emergency supplies are stored in a safe area, and make sure you don't "part them out" over time.
It's frustrating to be faced with an unexpected event and find that you've exhausted your stockpile of emergency supplies over that past couple years.
Think also about maintaining an emergency supply kit for your family. It is recommended that you have enough food, water, emergency lighting, cooking, pet food, and "special need supplies" (for young children, those needing medical care, or the elderly) to be able to survive for 72 hours in case something catastrophic happens.
Again, make sure personal family supplies are stored in a safe location and in sealed container and refreshed periodically in a space like a basement or storm shelter.
4. Think about and document the key relationships that will be crucial to helping you get your production operation back up and running.
Make sure key phone numbers and contact information is programmed into your phone and printed for easy access.
Key partners will include your insurance agent(s), veterinarian, local builders and electricians, suppliers, etc.
Share that information with at least two other people who know the operation - including key employees, business partners, your spouse, or others.
The process is relatively simple - anticipate likely events; think through the scenarios that could cause harm to your operation; develop a supply list and purchase/safely store needed supplies; and make sure all key partners can be readily contacted during times when you need critical assistance.
One final thought…In a modern agricultural operation, it is often possible to recover from emergencies successfully if you've followed these steps and developed a solid plan.
You also must be well-insured and have the financial capacity to make a full recovery.
But, many people are never able to recover if key information is lost to a fire, tornado, or other catastrophic event.
Make absolutely sure that vital business, financial, and animal-connected records are backed up and stored in secure locations (digitally or with other backed-up copies).
Options include regularly-scheduled backups of digital information to jump drives or "the cloud." Don't forget about critical family records, photographs, and personal memorabilia.
Many farmers who lose buildings (including their homes) know that they can replace structures and facilities or even animals - but they can never replace lost information and items of great sentimental value.
Take time now to think through and take specific, positive actions to prepare for life's unexpected events. You'll be glad you did.