The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services urges all farmers to prepare ahead of time for power outages, threats to livestock and poultry, structural or crop damage, insurance claims and damage that can accompany a strong winter storm.
Agricultural producers especially need to consider livestock that range in remote locations from the main farm and may be difficult to reach because of blocked roads.
Equipment needs can include a generator, fuel, a hand fuel pump, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, a camera to record damage, blankets, flashlights and batteries, NOAA weather radio, and stored water and feed for humans and livestock.
Tobacco farms or nursery operations with greenhouses, dairies, and hog and poultry operations are especially vulnerable if power remains out for a lengthy period; those farmers may want to purchase a generator. Farmers who cannot purchase a generator should consider leasing or negotiating a rental arrangement for a back-up generator in advance.
Property preparations can include checking power lines for clearance and pruning or removing trees that could fall on lines, surveying buildings for limbs or trees close to buildings and pounding in extra nails or tightening straps to prevent wind damage. Other precautions include clearing away all debris that could blow in high winds, securing farm signs and photographing valuable items and storing the pictures digitally.
Finally, farmers should develop an emergency plan for their families and their farm workers. They also need to assign and prioritize preparation and recovery duties before a storm hits.
These are those things to do once the weather report indicates a problem storm is brewing.
- Monitor local weather reports for up-to-the-minute information on the storm.
- Charge batteries on cell phones and determine check-in points for family members and workers. A car charger for electronic devices is a good idea if the power goes out.
- Provide shelter for livestock and equipment.
- Mark animals with an identifier so they can be returned to you in the event of breached fences and escaped animals. Permanent ear tags on cattle, sheep, goats and pigs are the best option, but other possibilities include brands, paint markings on hooves or coat, or clipped initials in the hair.
- Check feed inventory and order extra if needed.
- Pump and store adequate supplies of drinking water for humans and animals in the case of power outages. VDACS recommends a minimum 36-hour reserve.
- Move feed to higher ground or to a more accessible place in case of transportation problems.
- Check generators to be sure they are in good working order and purchase sufficient amounts of fuel to operate them.
- Store or secure items or equipment that may blow away or blow into structures, including lawn furniture and ornaments.
- Turn off the propane supply at tanks.
- Top off all gas, propane and other fuel tanks, including the family vehicles.
- Check the security of roofing materials, siding and windows and doors in barns and poultry houses to make sure they will not blow off or blow open in strong winds.
- Remove snow from roofs if accumulation exceeds the load limits of the structure.
- Coordinate with neighbors beforehand to discuss what resources can be shared in the event of power outages or flooding.
- Make a list of important phone numbers in order to make calls following a storm. Potential numbers to include are the local emergency management office, Virginia Cooperative Extension Services personnel, insurance agent, county Farm Service Agency and private veterinarian. For local emergency offices, contact the Virginia Department of Emergency Management ahead of time, or visitwww.vaemergency.gov.
A final reminder to farmers: even though you may be physically fit, remember that no matter your age or physical condition, overexertion while shoveling snow and cleaning up from the storm can cause health problems such as a sudden heart attack. Pace yourself and be sure to bundle up to avoid over exposure to cold, wetness and wind.
Being prepared for winter storms could help farmers limit their losses, but preparation needs to begin now, before a problem storm hits.