ROCHESTER, Minn. – Although no dairy farmer wants a catastrophic event to happen on his or her farm, it is important to have a plan in place if the situation were to arise.
    That is why the Minnesota Milk Producers Association and the Upper Midwest Dairy Industry Association presented a “Dealing with Disasters” panel at their spring meeting March 4 in Rochester.
    “This came about as a result of the barn collapses last year and having to move cows fast,” said Lucas Sjostrom, farmer relations manager for Midwest Dairy.
    Along with Sjostrom, the panel included Katie Brown, technical service specialist for Land O’Lakes; Cheryl Eia, assistant director, dairy and meat division for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture; and Colleen Pawlenty, county operations trainee for the Dodge and Olmsted counties Farm Service Agency.
    Brown first discussed what farmers should think about before a disaster occurs. She worked with farms that suffered roof collapses last year along with a dairy that had a tornado destroy its robotic barn.
    “There’s no bullet proof plan,” Brown said. “But it doesn’t do us much good to look at (a disaster) afterward if you aren’t prepared at the beginning.”
    She shared her own tips along with ones from Troy Stevens from Bremer Bank in St. Cloud, who presented at the meeting in central Minnesota the previous day. Stevens worked with the Carlson family in Pennock after they experienced destruction on their dairy due to straight-line winds.
    First, check the farm’s insurance plan. Farmers need to evaluate replacement costs of buildings.
    “What you built even five years ago is going to cost a lot more to rebuild today than it did five, 10, 15 years ago,” Brown said. “Also look at what you would do differently and how much would it cost to do it differently.”
    Another insurance item to check is business income loss exposure.
    “If you no longer produce milk on your farm, what are you going to do to bring in money?” Brown said.
    Also check insurance for extra expense exposure.
    “When things happen, there are going to be other things come up that you’re not going to anticipate,” Brown said.
    As an example, Brown said a smaller farm that experienced a tornado had five skidloaders onsite to help with cleanup. A tire changing station had to be set up because the skidloaders were constantly puncturing holes in the tires from driving through debris.
    It is also important to think about coverage for debris removal.
    “It sounds easy, but it costs a lot of money to bring in a crane or a backhoe to remove the items,” Brown said. “Having that as part of your insurance is helpful.”
    Other coverage to consider is equipment breakdown.
    “Think of this outside of having a catastrophe happen,” Brown said. “If you’re out combining and the engine blows up, check into this coverage. You may already have and don’t realize you have it.”
    Take inventory of all items on the farm. One way to do this is by taking pictures or videos.
    “You’re not going to remember the tool that you have on that shelf until you need it,” Brown said. “How many tools do farmers own that are in trucks or in that special spot that you don’t remember you have until you need it? Taking an inventory … is helpful because it will help you replace a few items.”
    Brown also suggested making backup plans for moving livestock.
    “If it sounds good to go to the neighbor down the road because they have room, maybe you need to ask around to the field rep and ask if they’re a type of manager that could handle 50 or 100 more cows because it might not be an ideal situation,” Brown said. “They will probably say yes because that’s what the dairy community does – they help each other. But in the end, it might result in hard feelings and have long term affects on everybody.”
    The Carlsons suggested to say no to people who do not know how to work around cattle.
    “And sometimes less is more,” Brown said. “You don’t need 150 people because it can be overwhelming.”
    Others in the audience suggested keeping biosecurity protocols in place in order to protect the healthy animals that will stay on the farm that were not affected. Invite the local fire department to the farm so they know how to maneuver trucks on the property. Designate someone to be the volunteer leader to direct people. Keep a handwritten list of phone numbers in case a cell phone is not accessible. Consider only allowing family, employees and people covered by the insurance plan in the barn due to liability issues.
    Eia talked about the regulatory side of disasters.
    “We would like to know,” Eia said. “If you had a disaster, barn collapse or something else you can reach out through your inspector, a call to the St. Paul office or give your field rep a call.”
    The state’s department of agriculture keeps track of disasters, such as last year’s roof collapses.
    “The reports go to the commissioner’s office and then to the governor’s office,” Eia said. “It keeps everyone in the know and gives them situational awareness about what’s happening in the dairy industry so they have an idea of the big picture.”
    Eia also said if cattle need to be moved to another farm that is not currently milking animals, it needs to be inspected.
    “If there’s not much work to be done, they can probably issue a permit pretty quickly,” Eia said.
    A waiver to the 72-hour milk pick-up time can also be given for natural disasters and emergencies.
    “If it looks like you’re going to have a problem getting your milk picked up, get in touch with your inspector or call the St. Paul office to let us know and we can work on a waiver,” Eia said.
    Sjostrom talked about how Midwest Dairy is available to help.
    “Crisis management is our No. 1 thing,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t have to deal with it, but we will assist in the ways that Midwest Dairy can.”
    The organization can also help with communication prior to a disaster such as writing press releases about a positive event on a farm or setting up a farm Facebook page.
    Activist events are also situations where Midwest Dairy can assist, such as preparing the dairy ahead of time, being gatekeepers to the dairy during the event, designating a spot for media and monitoring social media.
    Pawlenty shared the details of three programs available to producers during disasters. The Livestock Indemnity Program helps producers who have more-than-normal deaths due to an adverse weather event, disease or predator attack.
    The Livestock Forage Disaster Program helps livestock producers who have suffered grazing loses.
    The Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity and Milk Loss Program helps dairy producers who had to dump milk due to weather events.
    Overall, the UMDIA board and Minnesota Milk want producers to be prepared to make a traumatic event a little easier.
    “Hopefully no one ever has to use this list, but we wanted to give you something to start with so that if it does happen, you can think about who you would call, what you would do and have background knowledge,” Brown said.