Crisis Management – On The Farm (Part 1)

A crisis can happen at any moment. On July 3, a lawn care company had a customer appreciation picnic. Days later, more than 75 people became ill from E. coli.  As we can see from this incident, anyone can experience an agriculture related crisis. From farmers producing the food, to companies selling products or even consumers providing food during an event everyone has the potential to be effected. Whether the cause is weather or contamination, undercover videos or activist organizations, or other causes, steps can be taken to prepare for, manage and recover from a crisis.

The first step in preventing a crisis is to prepare for one. Begin by examining your company and assessing (and accepting) your real risks. In what areas could you potentially experience a crisis? What is the media saying that could possibly affect your business?  Even if you are not currently facing a crisis, be on the lookout for one by monitoring the media, the industry, competitors, etc. During this time contact your insurance agency. Not only can your agent help you to determine what coverage would be most appropriate, but they may be able to help identify your potential exposures. Working with your agent can save you money in the event of a crisis.

Next, pull together your core group and form a crisis planning team. This team should be comprised of leaders in the production, purchasing, sales, marketing, quality control, safety, transportation, legal and communications areas. Whether you have one or nine people responsible for these areas, it is important to identify the leaders and their specific roles in the event of a crisis. As a team, prepare and develop a crisis response plan. During this time, take the time to document your current policies and procedures. Having information readily available on manufacturing practices, pesticides used, how the product is labeled for shipping, communication techniques, etc. will save you time later.

After establishing your team and organizing your information, designate one member as the media contact. This person should feel confident with public speaking and be knowledgeable about the entire operation; they will be the sole communicator with the media. Whether it is the local newspaper or a national television station, you want to give consistent and honest statements throughout the crisis.

Before a crisis occurs, it can be beneficial to determine allies. These partners can be expert famers, commodity groups and industry supporters who can help you survive the crisis. In Part II, we will show you what to do during and after a crisis.

What steps do you take to prepare for a crisis? We would love to hear from you!  Please share your comments.

 This post was written by Katie Hozan, an intern working in our Claims Department of Westfield Insurance this summer. Katie is a senior majoring in communications and public relations at Ohio Northern University.