Are you prepared for a disaster?

Tips to help minimize the damage and disruption to your farm or livestock operation

Dead livestock. Ruined crops. Destroyed fences, buildings and roads. Billions of dollars in damages.

This spring’s massive flooding in Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest is a painful reminder of the havoc that natural disasters can inflict on agriculture. In recent years, we’ve also seen blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires affect farms, livestock operations and agribusinesses in other parts of the United States.

The reality is natural disasters will continue to occur. Some have the potential to put you out of business. But even lesser impacts can upset your operations and disrupt your business and your life for days, weeks and months.

How prepared would you be if a disaster came your way? While natural disasters can’t be avoided, you can take precautions to minimize the damage and disturbance to yourself and your business. You don’t want to be floundering when an emergency hits. 

Start preparing now

Develop a disaster plan. Consider possible emergency scenarios and then list—in writing —the steps that must be followed if a disaster occurs. In general, your plan should:

Identify an internal emergency response team. That’s likely to include family members, key employees and maybe even a neighbor. These will be your go-to people, the ones who know your operation and can be counted on during an emergency. Designate the roles they’ll play in the event of a disaster. For example, if the roads are impassable, who will feed or move livestock? Who will check on animals, property or equipment?

Develop a list of key names, telephone numbers, email addresses and other information. Know which contacts and government agencies you’ll need to reach. These could range from the local police or fire department to your grain cooperative or veterinarian. Make sure everyone knows how to find this information quickly, whether it’s in a digital file, a binder on the shelf or displayed on a wall.

Designate a meeting spot where your team would assemble if your office, barn or shop is destroyed or unreachable.

Other steps

Back up your financial information. Disaster is multiplied if your financial records are destroyed in a flood or fire. Copies of loan details, accounts receivable and payable, payroll and taxes, and everything in between should be stored somewhere other than your place of business. The cloud’s remote servers may be an option for storing your data offsite. You might use something as simple as Dropbox or something more complex in conjunction with your accountant or financial advisory firm.

Protect your business with insurance. Know what’s covered by your insurance and what’s not. Understand not only what disasters are applicable under your policy but also what property and other assets would be covered. Be aware of your deductible amounts. You don’t want any surprises there. Familiarize yourself with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Disaster Assistance programs.

Reinforce your farm and property. Ahead of any natural disaster, walk through your property and look for areas that should be shored up. Fortify buildings and structures. Clear debris and nail down any windows or siding that could pull away. If a disaster hits, wait until it’s safe, and then check all buildings and surroundings on your farm or property. Capture any damage with a camera or your smartphone for insurance purposes.

Look after your livestock. If you’re a livestock producer, crisis animal care must be a key part of your disaster plan. Train your team to be ready to handle an emergency. If livestock are imperiled, put your logistics plan into action with crews that have been tasked with caring for animals during a crisis event. Barn staff needs to know proper evacuation routes.

Manage the manure. One of the biggest issues during natural disasters for livestock producers is managing manure and containing runoff. Work to ensure your lagoons are pumped down to accommodate the additional rain. Secure levees and barriers well ahead of a storm or pending disaster.

Know your resources. Don’t be afraid to discuss losses, payment delays, cash-flow concerns or other needs with your professional advisors. If you need help, ask KCoe Isom’s Sustainability team can help with your questions and concerns. USDA’s Farm Service Agency provides several resources to help farmers and livestock producers affected by adverse weather and natural disaster. Among them are:

  • the Livestock Indemnity Program;

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  • the Emergency Conservation Program; and

  • the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

There may also be options for producers through FSA farm loan programs, including the opportunity for existing FSA loan customers to delay a loan payment through the Disaster Set-Aside Program or access the Emergency Loan Program. Visit and click on “Recover” to learn more.

Don’t delay. Preparing for a disaster is crucial. And it’s an excellent exercise for pulling your team together. Remember the old saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? Take your first step today to prepare your business for the risk of disaster.

Editor’s note: Maxson Irsik, a certified public accountant, advises owners of professionally-managed agribusinesses and family-owned ranches on ways to achieve their goals. Whether an owner’s goal is to expand and grow the business, discover and leverage core competencies, or protect the current owners’ legacy through careful structuring and estate planning, Maxson applies his experience working on and running his own family’s farm to find innovative ways to make it a reality. Contact him at [email protected].