Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Community helps prepare for natural disasters

With farmers becoming as scarce as hen's teeth, where you used to be able to get advice at the local coffee shop, feed mill, or elevator, you have to sometimes go further afield. New communities of shared interest rather than shared geographical proximity are filling in some of the gaps. One such, for computer-savvy farm folk, is the #agchat community on Twitter. Although a subset of avid internet and social media users, it's a fairly diverse crowd of vegetable, grain, livestock and dairy farmers, big and small. In the wake of Hurricane Irene, last night during the weekly chat on Twitter, people offered tips on dealing with natural disasters.

I live in a pretty disaster-free area. Landlocked and far inland, we aren't affected by hurricanes or tsunamis. The last earthquake my mom remembers, in the 80's, knocked a picture off the wall. Land flat as a dinner plate means no volcanoes. We've had some spring flooding lately, but the main disasters that threaten agriculture here are drought, hail, high winds, and the odd tornado.

I posed a question about limiting hail damage (besides using insurance) and got some good replies. Bonus: only 140 characters each, max. 

- ensure proper shelter for livestock, machinery
- For fruit growers and produce ... there is hail netting
- depending on the crop (mkt/csa veggies) & where located, putting on layer of row cover for some protection
- Diversify! Some crops recover from hail better than others. Squash & lettuce get wrecked, but onions and tubers have reserves 2 recover
- a big tarp? For silage bags, we keep a lot of duct tape around to repair holes
- with 150 year old hardwood trees for cover -- hail is just a way to fill the cooler before the game.
- another consideration 4 crops wld be where to plant...w/in natural borders & protection via trees, tall grasses (permaculture)     

The question on dealing with high winds or tornadoes also got good replies.

- You know all those century old Midwest barns built into a side of a hill? Pretty smart huh?
- Our Coverall buildings bend in the wind. They have held up pretty well to tornado and high winds 
- Our farmhouse is concrete up to the rafters. It can withstand tornadoes. No other buildings have ever gone down in high winds
- Tough to fortify against tornado, but for high winds, we did plant a windbreak many years ago around our grain storage facility
- get rid of items sitting around that become missles n windstorms. Put equip n bldgs. Clear clutter.
- hoop bldgs fared better w less damage 2 bldg contents than pole bldgs n r area n July 11 windstorm
- Future farm infrastructure development should consider geodesic domes for rock solid structures, tornado resistant
- ''portable'' hoophouses & similar structures can be taken down in prep if ahead of storms..transporting delicate crops elsewhere
- keep trees trimmed away from power lines, bldgs. Put in underground power lines where possible 2 minimize damage. 

The drought question did not garner any replies that I found useful, living in a region where climate change is predicted to create multi-year droughts. "Pray" and "Irrigate" were the two answers given. I would suggest that diversification and drought-tolerant plants would mitigate some damage. Ultimately, I think the more links we have with different communities, the more resilient we will be.

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