By Vern Grubinger and Chris Callahan

Recent extreme weather events have increased attention to the concept of resilience on farms. Over the past several years, different parts of the country have experienced drought, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Such disruptions are nothing new, but if they become more frequent or intense as part of a changing climate, it makes sense for farmers to take steps to be better prepared.

In case of electrical power outages, consider installing on-site power generation (generator).  Photo by tpsdave/pixabay.com.

In case of electrical power outages, consider installing on-site power generation (generator).
Photo by tpsdave/pixabay.com.

Farm resilience can be thought of as the ability to bounce back quickly from a disruption by re-establishing production and marketing, hopefully with improvements so that such events will do less harm in the future. Resilience is not the same as sustainability, which addresses the long-term ability of a farm to maintain production through stewardship of resources, for example. The two goals are complementary and probably overlap.

In a nutshell, farm resilience is the ability to harvest, process, store and distribute food for a limited period of time when the electrical grid goes down, fossil fuel supplies are interrupted, transportation is impeded, or some other short-term disruption occurs. Sustainability is the ability to maintain food production and marketing activities for generations to come by taking care of the soil and water, securing reliable and renewable energy sources, and maintaining social enthusiasm for farming in the family, the community and the country.

Translating the general ideas of farm resilience into concrete actions is important if we are to be better prepared for the next extreme weather event. Here is a checklist of steps farmers can take to minimize the impact of such events and other disturbances on their farms.

Drought

  • Install or increase irrigation system capacity
  • Oversize supply/create multiple sources for irrigation water
  • Build soil organic matter/soil health with cover crops, etc.
  • Install potable water storage
  • Install livestock water storage

Flooding

  • Establish riparian plantings
  • Optimize soil drainage with tiling, swales, etc.
  • Elevate utilities in buildings
  • Elevate chemical storage
  • Elevate equipment storage
  • Elevate perishable product storage
  • Install floodgates for buildings and key storage areas
  • Build with higher curbs around building perimeter, or intentional water entry and exit paths
  • Have a flood warning system in place and an action plan that is communicated
  • Consider portable storage infrastructure for critical items so they can be moved if needed
  • Liquid fuel shortage
  • Install on-site storage tank(s)
  • Include spill prevention, containment and countermeasures (SPCC)
  • Create on-site production (vegetable oil, biodiesel)

High winds

  • Consider prevailing winds when building or relocating structures
  • Anchor greenhouses, sheds and other light structures deep into the soil
  • Install heavy-duty doors and closures that will not blow open
  • Locate trash/loose items in protected area
  • Consider natural windbreaks (hedgerow, etc.)

Labor shortage

  • Create volunteer contact list
  • Create online crowdsourcing site

Electric power outage

  • Install passive cold storage
  • Install passive cooling systems
  • Consider increased thermal ballast (extra mass)
  • Consider extra insulation in critical heated/cooled areas
  • Install backup (biomass) heating in critical areas
  • Install passive (manual) water pumping
  • Install on-site power generation (generator)
  • Install backup power storage (batteries)

Roads closed

  • Develop overflow product storage plan in community
  • Create stockpile of essential bought-in supplies

General

  • Purchase infrastructure insurance
  • Purchase crop/livestock insurance
  • Purchase on-site communication systems (two-way radios)
  • Develop emergency response plan/procedures; share with farm personnel
  • Share farm-specific hazard list with local emergency responders and management officials
  • Obtain copy of local emergency response plan(s)