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Risks in Agriculture: Wildfire Season

Jul 21, 2021 Decorative image

The agriculture industry faces a slew of risks in the best of times. From pests and disease to government regulations to employee error, illness or death, the farming industry sees a variety of hazards year-round which can cause serious disruption. Add to that the rising number of wildfires that pose a threat to crops, livestock, equipment and workers, and the agriculture industry is facing potential disaster.So agribusinesses in high fire risk areas need to ensure they are appropriately protected.

Wildfires Are Causing More Damage
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 10.1 million acres were burned in 2020 by 58,000 wildfires. That’s more than double the acres damaged in 2019.

And with more droughts and heat waves hitting at-risk areas, the wildfire season is starting sooner and lasting longer, creating the potential for more damage and raising the risks facing the agriculture industry.

Crop and Livestock Damage
Crops won’t wait until a wildfire fizzles out in order to be harvested. Smoke and ash contribute to difficult harvesting conditions and residual heat can destroy crops that may have escaped flames, while soil erosion can impact future crops. When a fire hits, the potential lost revenue can be catastrophic.

Equipment
Agriculture equipment is a hefty investment, and the loss of a piece of machinery could lead to more lost crops. As a critical component of your successful agribusiness, tractors and other machinery need to be protected during wildfire season.

Safety and Health of Workers
Your workers are the most important part of your business. Their health and well-being needs to be top of mind, with protections put in place to ensure their safety.

Protect Your Property from Wildfire
A wildfire can arise from almost anything – a lightning strike, an errant match or campfire, prescribed fires escaping control. Regardless of what caused the fire, there are protections you can put in place to keep your agribusiness safe. And with more policies adding wildfire exclusions, businesses need to ensure they are prepared ahead of time.

Minimize Hazards
Agricultural businesses have common hazards that can lead to the spreading of a wildfire. Limiting these hazards, including reducing the number of flammable wooden farm structures, appropriately drying and storing hay, and properly storing flammable liquids, will add a measure of safety to wildfire areas.

Prescribed Fires
According to the USDA Forest Service, a prescribed fire can help protect communities from extreme fires. Prescribed fires, otherwise known as controlled burns, are intentionally set, controlled fires meant to reduce hazards such as brush and shrubs. Prescribed fires are managed by experts with years of experience in planning and executing the controlled burns. Anybody considering a prescribed fire should be sure to follow guidelines to ensure the burn stays within control.

Set Fireguards
Fireguards or fire breaks are barriers established to protect property and lives from fire, controlling the speed of fires and starving the fire of fuel. There are a variety of types of fireguards, including:

  • Bare soil
  • Roads
  • Natural features
  • Black lines

The type of fireguard used will depend on various factors, including slope, soil type, labor and amount of fuel.

Create Evacuation Plans for People and Livestock
Your workers need to know what to expect if a wildfire emergency is declared. Maintain an evacuation plan and be sure everybody is aware of where they can go for safety. Be sure workers are equipped with safety gear, including N95 masks, should the need arise. The air quality index needs to be considered when looking at employee safety.

Don’t forget livestock. Smoke and flames can be dangerous to animals, so be sure livestock is considered in evacuation plans. Inventory the animals and locations, and be prepared with temporary shelter – fairgrounds, equestrian centers or stockyards.

Prepare evacuation kits for both people and livestock and have them at the ready throughout the year, being sure to regularly review and update the kits. Kits should include food, water, blankets, halters and leads, among other items.

Establish Fire-Safe Areas
Fire-safe areas will ensure people, livestock and equipment are safe from flames and smoke. These areas should be in noncombustible areas around spaces where equipment, hay and fuel are stored. Buildings should have fire doors, and any fuels, pesticides or other chemicals should be stored in fire-retardant areas.

Ensure the Right Insurance is in Place
According to Hylant’s 2021 Quarterly Update, wildfire exclusions have become commonplace, while wildfire capacity is extremely limited. Some policies may cover fire damage to crops only if the fire was due to natural circumstances (a lightning strike, for example) versus a spreading flame from a rogue campfire.

It’s critical for you to know whether your policy has a wildfire exclusion. Every policy is different, custom-built for the specific client. Generally, livestock, buildings and equipment can all be covered by insurance, under the right policy. Additionally, insurance may provide rental equipment, temporary workers and mitigation activities. You may be able to add supplemental fire insurance, as well.

Historically, the government has created programs for relief from large-scale wildfires, such as the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) from the wildfires and natural disasters of 2018 and 2019. However, you shouldn’t rely on a potential relief program. Instead, plan ahead and make sure your business and employees are protected this wildfire season.

Want to learn more about protecting your agribusiness this wildfire season? Contact a Hylant expert today.