Hurricane Preparation and Recovery for Fruit and Vegetable Growers

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By Pam Knox

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is on the horizon, and now is the time to get ready for whatever storms may come your way. Even if you get missed this year, long-term preparation will help you get ready for any disaster that might occur on your farm, even if it is not weather-related. There are four steps that growers can take to prepare for and recover from a severe weather event like a flood or hurricane or even a fire or train derailment that leaks hazardous material near your fields. These steps include: 1) building a resilient operation, 2) long-term operational maintenance, 3) short-term preparedness and 4) post-storm recovery.

LONG-TERM CONSIDERATIONS

Before you even start to prepare for hurricanes or any other disaster, you should ask yourself if you can provide proof of any losses that might happen. Keep records of equipment, vehicles, buildings and supplies in case they need to be replaced or documented for losses in an insurance claim. Photos, videos and lists can all be useful for assessing insurance needs and making sure you are properly covered for floods and other weather events. Insurance needs to be purchased well ahead of any expected weather event, since you cannot buy insurance when a hurricane is already bearing down on your property. Keep multiple copies of records in different places in case one set is destroyed.

A farm emergency plan is a useful document to have around. The beginning of the growing season is a good time to review your farm emergency plan and insurance and to update your inventory. You can find a full set of crop-specific guides to hurricane preparation and recovery, including templates for farm emergency plans and specific information for a variety of crops from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southeast Regional Climate Hub (see climatehubs.usda.gov/hubs/southeast/topic/hurricane-preparation-and-recovery-southeast-us).

Know where to go when severe weather strikes and make sure all your family members and workers know, too. Know your local topography so that if you are caught outside, you know where the safest place is. This knowledge also will help with siting new facilities since you don’t want to build in a flood plain.

If you need power to run your equipment, consider having a generator and a fuel supply available so you won’t be caught without it. Check your generators to make sure they are ready to go in case of power outages. In case roads are blocked after a storm, ensure you have at least a two-week supply of any chemicals needed. Make sure the road out of your farm has good drainage so you will not be trapped by a flood. Provide drainage in your fields so that plants won’t be inundated for long periods.

Consider providing training in basic first aid and CPR to your workers in case of medical emergencies.

Tour your farm to look for potential wind hazards like dead trees or low-lying branches that could damage fences or buildings. Identify areas where erosion or other drainage issues could provide hazards in heavy rain. Check your buildings to make sure there are no issues and clean out culverts for proper drainage.

Download the Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency app to your smartphone to get timely weather alerts. Do not count on your regular weather app to give you good information in fast-changing weather.

SHORT-TERM STEPS

Once you know a hurricane is likely to occur in your area (one to seven days before a landfall is predicted), there are additional steps to take. First, make sure your family and your employees and their families have a safe place to go. If mandatory evacuation orders are given, obey them and get your workers out well ahead of the storm. Then, protect your farm.

Have a plan for which employees will stay and how they will be housed during and after the storm. Make sure they know how to operate equipment like chainsaws safely.

Plan for disruptions in communication since cell towers often go down in high winds. Use text messages instead of phone calls because they are more likely to go through. Keep batteries charged and get updates on weather using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios.

Make sure that you have plenty of water and stored food in case you are isolated. Consider getting some cash since credit cards may not work if power is out.

Move equipment to higher ground to prevent flood damage. Remove any loose material that can be blown around in high winds and become a projectile.

For crops that are near harvest, consider picking any mature or near-ripe fruit and vegetables and store or ship them. Produce that is left out in the field is likely to be damaged or more susceptible to disease after the hurricane. If produce is in flooded areas, you may not be able to sell it due to contamination from flood water. If there is field work that needs to be done, do it before the soil gets saturated from rain.

ACTIONS AFTER THE STORM

When the storm has passed, make safety your first priority. Do not rush back to your farm until you are sure it is safe, and even then, use extreme caution due to weakened trees, eroded roads, and potential damage to electrical and gas systems. Avoid downed power lines and use groundwater with caution since it could be contaminated.

Once you have taken care of immediate safety concerns, start documenting damage to plants, including wind damage, salt damage and erosion. Do this before you start cleaning up to provide evidence to insurers. A drone can be helpful in providing a good overall picture of farm conditions.

Take care of yourself and your family since recovery is likely to be a long and stressful period. Don’t forget to check on your neighbors, too, since local emergency workers are likely to be overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done. Then contact your local emergency government workers, Extension agents and other government agencies to start the long process of making insurance claims and cleaning up your property.

Pam Knox is an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center in Watkinsville.

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