Who ya gonna call? Crisis preparedness a necessity for farms

“Things can spin out of control really fast.” Gertie van den Goor knew this from experience from a simple post on Facebook. The Goma Dairy owner of Marlette, relayed the story of posting a positive video on her Facebook page and how she was shocked when it was viewed approximately 64,000 times.

While this video was positive and well received by viewers, van den Goor explained, “This was really scary. It was the first time I realized what it really meant to have social media take over and there is nothing you can do about it.”

A positive video has traction but a negative video sprouts wings and flies through social media newsfeeds affecting simple perceptions of an industry resulting in consumer activism that can force changes from farm to fork. “All of us underestimate the power of social media like Facebook,” van den Goor claimed.

After that experience, van den Goor knew she wasn’t prepared if a crisis happened on their 3,000-head dairy farm and instead of waiting to react, she decided they would be proactive. She had listened to speakers present about crisis planning but when United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) invited her to their Crisis Drill and Skill Planning Session, she signed up. “I knew I needed to learn more about crisis planning so when UDIM put together a meeting I wanted to participate.”

A detrimental video is just one kind of crisis that can plague a dairy. Jolene Griffin of UDIM lists several more potential unfortunate situations, “A crisis can occur on dairy farms in a number of ways: loss of a team member, contaminated feed, fire, environmental issue such as a drought or a horrendous snow storm.”

While one of the first calls a producer needs to make in a crisis is to their MMPA field representative, UDIM has also developed a crisis plan designed specifically for dairy producers to react when any kind of crisis hits.

“As dairy farmers we have plans for everything, milking protocols, how we apply manure on our fields, newborn calf care, etc. A crisis plan includes the information you, your family and your farm team will need to work through and ultimately recover from a crisis” explained Griffin.

“Crisis planning isn’t something we want to think about and while a plan won’t ensure a crisis doesn’t ever happen on your farm, it will help your team work through a crisis if one does occur.” Griffin continued, “It will ensure all team members have the information they need, and know the steps to take.”

 Some of the key components of a crisis plan include:

  • A list of crisis team members, their contact information and their specific roles during a crisis. Including someone who is not intricately involved in the day-to-day farming operation may be helpful as they can answer calls, respond to requests, etc., while the farm team tries to continue caring for animals.
  • A list of resources that can help during the crisis, including your MMPA field representative and UDIM.
  • A pre-determined location to meet after a crisis.
  • A draft farm statement that expresses concern or sympathy for the situation and a list of the steps being taken to address the situation and contact information if the media has additional questions.

One of the keys to a successful plan is to engage all team members from the start to ensure they know their roles during a crisis.  Meeting with the crisis team to create the initial plan and then meeting regularly will help to include all necessary components into a crisis plan.

“If you have a larger staff, not all of them will be involved in the response during a crisis, but they all need to know there is a plan in place and who they should contact if they have questions,” Griffin explained.

Communication with people outside the farm is a key component.  Griffin commented, “The entire farm team should also know what the crisis team wants them to say if asked by outside individuals about the crisis. For example, if a media contact stops at the farm, they should know who to direct this person to. And, if they are asked by a family or friend about the situation, they should know what to say so rumors aren’t started.”

MMPA members can rely on their co-op staff for assistance in communicating with the media and developing strategies to answer questions.

The crisis drills are designed to bring real-life situations to participants to allow for practice before a real life crisis explodes.

“Crisis drills are eye-opening for those who attend. We put participants through a real-life scenario and let them determine what steps will be made to work through the situation, how they will respond to media requests, what they will say on social media and then challenge them with information and requests that continue to flood in.” Griffin continued, “At the end of the drill, we want participants to leave knowing there is a team who can help, resources they can use and new learnings they can incorporate into their operations.”

Griffin concluded, “Through UDIM, we have trainings available that we can host for dairy farmers to help them create their crisis plans. We can host these trainings for farmers who are interested in gathering their neighbors to learn more.”

For more information on the crisis seminars, you may contact Jolene at jolene@nullmilkmeansmore.org.  In the event of a farm crisis, please contact MMPA.

–Melissa Hart

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.