These days, disruption in business and everyday life is beginning to feel like the norm. Threats from extreme weather and vulnerabilities from a stretched workforce add stress to the usual variables farmers face. Worrying about such matters won’t help. Preparedness does.
Developing — then annually reviewing and revising — a crisis plan will help you respond to a wide range of issues while keeping your employees and animals safe. Preparing for potential emergencies such as power outages or abuse allegations doesn’t make them more likely to happen. It means you can be at your best in the worst-case scenario.
Preparation can help you pull more quickly through turmoil and illuminate opportunities for risk reduction. This enables you to get ahead of problems, prevent potential accidents, and avoid additional loss of revenue. It pays to be prepared.
Assemble your team
Crisis planning is a team activity. Begin by gathering input on existing or anticipated risks. Review current protocols and create space for conversations about what could go wrong, and what has. Reinforce the idea that you’re focused on building resilience, not placing blame.
Your team can replay episodes when accidents were narrowly avoided to help you understand what worked and what could go better. Don’t forget to bring partners like your processor, veterinarian, financial consultant, insurance agent, and others who you’d call in an emergency event into the planning process, too.
Defining roles will help everyone involved share a sense of responsibility for understanding and executing the plan. Consider bringing your team together for a tabletop exercise to discuss how they’d handle various scenarios of their roles. Or do a walk-through simulation to include the environmental factors that might contribute to your plans. Cross-training your team so that each person can cover multiple roles or functions will strengthen your ability to respond if a team member is sidelined.
Get clear on communication
After you write your farm’s crisis plan, do not have it sit on a shelf. Everyone involved should know where to access critical information. This means incorporating the plan into training activities. Consider accessibility in case something like a manure leak happens after hours. Turn phone trees into phone contacts so there is no delay when trying to track down a number in an emergency.
Not only is a crisis plan key for ensuring the continuity of your farm operations, it also supports reputation management. Covering crisis communications within your plan helps ensure an isolated incident doesn’t become an industry-wide issue. You’ll want to have remarks for various possibilities drafted and a spokesperson designated to address any reporters who might call.
Industry professionals supporting dairy operations, including Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, have come together to provide tools, resources, and guidance in developing your crisis response plan and communications strategy. Our team members are working with partners and national organizations like Animal Ag Alliance and Dairy Management Inc. to assist dairy producers with the preparation of contingency plans and real-time responses to crisis situations.
Reach out to your farm’s support team, local checkoff, or DMI staff to ensure your farm’s crisis preparedness plan is ready to go.