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Fire Safety on the Farm and Ranch

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Get educated about agriculture fires and how to prevent them with this informative guide.

Managing a farm or ranch is more than a business. It’s personal. And for many, it’s also the place where you live and raise your family. With all the hard work you’ve invested, a comprehensive fire safety plan has never been more important. Help prepare your family and employees for a variety of situations by following these fire safety recommendations.

Fire Safety Plans for the Whole Farm

Preparing for a devastating fire is no one’s idea of a fun afternoon. But, much like CPR training, it can change everything when an emergency strikes. Knowing how to react to a fire based on location, fire size, and available fuel sources in the vicinity — these are all factors that should be taken into account when designing a strategy. Review the fire safety plan best practices below to help insure that your farm is prepared.

Comprehensive planning is key. According to fire safety experts, if you’re inside a building that’s on fire, you have about 90 seconds to get out before the fire and smoke become a threat. Having an evacuation plan and rehearsing it frequently can make all the difference. Remind all workers that proper upkeep of the farm is one of the primary keys to preventing fires. Preform fire drills and create a fire escape plan for each building.

Take a tour. Walk around your property and look for potential dangers. Eliminate or safely store materials that pose a combustion risk. In areas that house flammable materials, clearly identify a no-fire perimeter to prevent vapors or flammables from igniting. It’s also smart to position highly visible fire extinguishers near each of these locations.

Emergency power disconnection. Agricultural fires typically happen in or around buildings first. So when you build your safety plan, be certain to clearly identify the process of disconnecting electrical breakers and be sure you know the location for incoming power to each outbuilding.

Livestock evacuation. Another important aspect of fire preparedness is to create a comprehensive evacuation plan for livestock that is sheltered indoors. Assign a parcel of land for that purpose, one which contains minimal burnable grass or brush. Ideally, it should have ample shelter from the sun and a readily available source of water. With measures like these in place, you and your employees will be able to react quickly and efficiently if necessary.

Go public. A great way to prepare for the unexpected is to create an emergency social media page that can act as a means of communicating to employees and family. Invite people to this new group as you’re creating your plan so they’ll know it exists well before it’s needed. Remind them of it during your fire drills and make sure they can access it.

Invite the fire chief. Get on your local fire department’s calendar to review your plan. Provide a map of your property showing the location of all buildings, and make a list of all flammable items on a per-building basis. It’s important to consider how responders will combat a fire across your acreage. Fire crews will need deep access into each building, so remind employees to keep main halls and pathways clear. Work with the fire officials to identify sources of water for fighting a fire. And have employees remove obstacles that may prevent first responders from driving emergency vehicles across your property. Your local authorities will know how to best manage issues on your property because everyone has agreed on your plan in advance.

Safeguarding Tractors and Other Equipment

Performing regular maintenance on all fleet vehicles will help to keep them running well. But it’s also an opportunity to check for fire hazards. Fires are frequently ignited in engine areas, so keep them free of debris and burnable materials. Inspect them regularly and remove combustibles at regular intervals. Keep an eye out for frayed wiring as insects and rodents have been known to degrade electrical lines. Take a close look at exhaust lines on all vehicles and machinery to ensure that catalytic converters, mufflers and other systems are operating well.

If possible, store machinery or vehicles that pose a higher fire risk separately from the rest of your fleet. And remember to place an annually-certified fire extinguisher on each self-propelled implement. It’s also a great idea to regularly check for exposed wires in machinery and engines. Be sure to look for moisture in high humidity environments as corrosion can play a factor in these circumstances. Inspect batteries carefully and follow manufacturers’ recommendations on removing corrosion.

Electrical Considerations

Sometimes, it only takes a spark to start a fire. Use humidity resistant covers on lamps, protect against sparking and install cages around incandescent lights to prevent flammable items contacting hot surfaces. Whenever possible, replace old or outdated electrical panels with new, weather-proof, corrosion-resistant panels, and relocate them away from flammable sources if necessary. Keep overhead electrical lines far above the minimum height to insure clearance by tall equipment and vehicles. And install ground fault interrupting (GFI) outlets in areas near water sources to reduce exposure to electrocution and fire risk for you, your family, your employees, and livestock too.

Buying electrical equipment that is UL listed and grounded properly is another important safety measure. Regularly test all power tools and machinery operated by an electrical motor to ensure they’re performing their task as designed. If a conveyor belt motor is overheating or consistently tripping a breaker, consider replacing it or upgrading to one with greater capacity. And don’t forget to inspect that breaker, as it may need replacing as well.

Always hire certified electricians who adhere to the most rigid requirements. They’ll know how best to keep your operation safe and may be able to advise you on hidden risks. Have them inspect and maintain lightning rods and grounding cables, too.

Employee Smoking Areas

If employees want to smoke during breaks, identify designated smoking areas with signage. Locate this area far from combustible materials. Provide commercial grade smoking receptacles for the disposal of cigarettes and remember to install an annually-certified fire extinguisher nearby.

Upgrade to Smart Alarms

One of the best ways to prevent a small fire from growing to an uncontrolled blaze is to install smoke alarms inside every building. Now, “smart smoke alarms” that hook into your Wi-Fi or broadband network can deliver real-time data, informing you of situations in remote buildings as they’re occurring, right through your smartphone. Another option is to purchase a smart 9-volt battery that will alert you when the battery discharges or when the alarm is active. They can be used in most existing smoke, fire and carbon monoxide alarms that require 9-volt batteries. Plus, they’re more affordable than smart detectors.

Fire Prevention for Outbuildings and Residences

There’s so much to consider when deciding where to place a new building on your property. To prevent fires from jumping from one building to another, allow at least 30-50 feet between structures. And always keep brush to a minimum by mowing a 10-foot perimeter around every building.

Consider the way airborne embers might find their way inside, and seal those areas to prevent infiltration. Enclose soffits and eaves. Regularly remove pine needles and other combustibles from roofs and gutters. Kindling like this can quickly ignite if cinders settle there. Select flame retardant materials like fiber cement siding and steel roofing for additional protection.

To minimize indoor fires, be sure that welding curtains are available and used by workers. Don’t allow employees to weld or use cutting torches in the vicinity of combustibles. Fires can be temporarily confined by installing fire rated doors, and they’re often required in key locations, so make sure your doors are up to code. Also consider upgrading existing structures and homes with fire suppressing sprinkler systems. Leverage rainwater by collecting it in cisterns and regularly water grass around outbuildings.

Practice good housekeeping by inspecting and maintaining furnaces and heating systems in each building on a regular basis. Set reminders to swap out filters, and don’t forget to examine outdated equipment frequently, as these items may soon require replacement.

Protect Your Investment

Taking time to safeguard your property from fires is a big job and an ongoing effort. But after that work is done, you’ll feel better knowing local fire department officials, your employees and your family are all working together to protect your property. After creating an inventory of all that you have worth protecting, remember to also take time to review your Farm and Ranch policy and build coverage that’s right for you.

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    A hobby farm is an exciting lifestyle choice, not a business. But that doesn’t mean that protecting it is any less important. You’ve put a lot into your livestock and crops, and probably made some equipment investments too. Now it’s time to give your farm the protection it deserves with hobby or small farm insurance.

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    The Price of Your Farm Equipment List

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    Catalog Your Farm Implements and Farm Tools First

    It’s time to get down to business and start pulling files. Begin by building a list of implements and equipment that are essential to your farm’s day to day operations. Here are some of the documents you’ll need.

    Start with the high-value items and assets on your farm like the ones listed below:

    • Tractors
    • Combines
    • Farm irrigation systems
    • Hay balers, backhoes, and wagons
    • Planters
    • Cultivators and disks
    • Herbicide and crop sprayers, as well as fertilizer and manure spreaders
    • Milking machines
    • Irrigation equipment
    • Internal combustion and electric motors
    • Water pumps and air compressors
    • Motorized post-hole diggers
    • Snow throwers and lawn mowers
    • Generators and emergency backup equipment

    Once you have the records out for the above items, dig in and locate the following:

    • Original purchase orders
    • Purchase receipts
    • Tax receipts
    • Liens or collateral documents that used the above items in order to get financing
    • State and county registration records
    • Insurance documents
    • Financing documents
    • Maintenance records

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    Powerful farm management software is available to quickly turn your farm equipment inventory and implement details into a web-enabled, mobile-friendly database that you can access and update from anywhere. All you'll need is a cell signal and the app downloaded to your mobile device.

    More importantly, farm management software can make your farm easier to run and more profitable too. Many systems are able to manage your farm’s entire business, from employee payroll to tracking crop and livestock details, to accounts payable and receivable. They’re worth considering.

    The Financial Benefits of a Farm Equipment Checklist

    With your inventory complete, you’ll be able to rapidly gain insights into which equipment is approaching the end of its usable life, and which items are in need of replacement. With non-cash expenses like inventory depreciation tracked closely, you can make informed decisions on when to sell or purchase large implements and equipment.

    Take Inventory of Your Farm Insurance

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    Enhance Your Farm's Digital Presence

    As a farmer, you know the goals of your farming business better than anyone. After all, it’s what you do day in and day out. What’s equally important as a business owner is understanding the audience you’re marketing to and how to reach them. That’s why creating an online presence for your farm is so important — it’ll help you connect with your customers and build an authentic brand that people are attracted to.

    An active online presence, when used correctly, is an effective tool that offers the opportunity to reach a broad range of customers and implement your business strategy. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can begin building your farm’s presence on the web and, ultimately, help you meet your business goals.

    The Importance of Understanding the Platform and Your Audience

    Before introducing your farm to the World Wide Web, you’ll want to keep these two things front of mind:

    What content are you putting on each platform?

    From your website to your e-newsletter, your customers consume and engage with every platform in different ways. So, when you start building your online presence, you’ll want to have an understanding of each platform’s purpose. That way, when your customer interacts with your business, they’re getting the information they expect.

    For instance, someone visiting your farm’s website is going to be looking for much different information than if they were on your Twitter feed. Or if a customer follows your Instagram account, they aren’t expecting the same stories as they read in your farm’s e-newsletter.

    You can build a better experience for your customers by asking yourself what mindset your reader is in when they head to each platform you create.

    Who is your audience?

    Understanding your customer is essential to the success of your digital presence. Before delivering a message effectively, you need to know who the message is going to and why. For starters, consider the kind of farm you run. Are you a commercial farm that sells your product to big businesses for distribution, or is your customer local businesses and families? The content and its tone depends on who you’re trying to reach. Who are they, what are they looking for and what’s the most authentic way you can relate to them to get them what they want? Understand their motivation by putting yourself in their shoes.

    Building a Website for Your Farm

    Now that you have a better idea of some digital basics, let’s put that knowledge into practice — starting with your website. The internet is a powerful tool to market the product(s) your farm produces, and creating a website is a key way to harness its potential. Follow these guidelines for website best practices:

    Set goals. Spontaneity has its time and place, but building a website to market your brand isn’t the situation to jump in without a plan. It’s important to set realistic, achievable goals for round one of your website. Keep in mind, your site is a work in progress and can be improved upon in many iterations. Consider what you want your website to achieve. Are you selling products? Do you offer a CSA? Do you want to educate people on agriculture? Maybe you’ll create a gallery to show images of the fun you have on your farm. Take the time to sit down and list out a few goals for round one. With your plan in place, it’ll make the next steps that much easier.

    Creating the website. You’ll need to decide if you want to hire someone to create your website or if you plan on crafting one yourself. Many sites exist that make it super easy to create and maintain your own website — and most of them are even free to use! If you choose to have someone develop a website for you, make sure it implements a content management system so you can update the site yourself. This way, you can easily keep things relevant without always having to go back to the designer (and pay them) to make changes.

    Provide a clear description of who you are. If someone stumbled upon your website, would they be able to identify who you are and the purpose of your farming business within a matter of seconds? That’s your goal — create a homepage that’ll attract and retain your customer’s attention so they’ll stay on your page. Make sure the name of your business stands out and a summary of your products and services is included.

    Clear navigation. In order to guide your customers to discover all the great things about your business, you’ll want a navigation menu with clear links that lead to your pages. A dropdown menu offers an easy way for your visitor to see all that you have to offer, no matter which page they’re on. You’ll ultimately decide which pages you want on your page, but home, about us, newsletter, calendar, contact us, links to your social media pages and other important services you offer are common pages to include on your website. Remember, your pages will align with the goals you set at the beginning.

    How to Create a Farm E-Newsletter

    No matter what type of farming you do, an e-newsletter is a simple and effective way to promote your farm. An e-newsletter is a periodic “report” with information and news about your farm and, in this case, is distributed to your subscribers via email. This form of marketing can be very effective because it’s targeted to people who have already taken interest in what you’re doing.

    So what should you know about creating an e-newsletter? Start with these three tips:

    Newsletter content. A good rule of thumb to follow is to include content that’s 90% educational and 10% promotional. Chances are the person who subscribed to your e-newsletter wants to get to know your business better and continue to stay informed — not be pushed to buy something. Providing educational, relevant information builds trust between your reader and your business. Here are some ideas for content you might include:

    • Whether you sell meat or vegetables, recipes are a fun way to mix your product with something useful to the consumer. It may even encourage a customer to buy your product.
    • Life on the farm isn’t something everyone gets to experience. Include a fun story about how your farm runs or an anecdote about your animals. This way your reader can vicariously experience farm life.
    • Is your farm open to the public? Include visiting hours, what they can expect to experience and any upcoming special events.
    • If you offer volunteer opportunities, include how to volunteer and/or a testimony from a previous volunteer.
    • Will you be at a farmer’s market or farming expo? Be sure to list anywhere you plan on appearing as vendors.
    • Reward your subscribers with a discount or coupon every now and then to show you appreciate their business.
    • Is there something unique about your farm? Let it be known!

    There’s no end to the content you can include in your newsletter, but most importantly, make sure it’s relevant and have an understanding what your reader is looking for.

    Newsletter design. A newsletter can be sent by mail, email or included on your website. Our suggestion is to send your subscribers an email as well as include a web page for your newsletters on your website. That way non-subscribers can view the newsletter and hopefully become subscribers! Here are a few things to keep in mind for the layout of your newsletter:

    • Create a header at the top of the page that includes the title of your newsletter, your company name and logo.
    • Use subheadings to organize and break up the pieces of content. A subhead should be smaller than your main heading and bigger than the text you use for your content blocks.
    • Choose a color scheme. If you have a brand logo, defer to those colors.
    • The legibility of your newsletter is very important, so stick to one or two fonts, since too many fonts can give a disorganized look.
    • Have a balance of images and text. An image grabs a reader’s attention and offers a visually appealing element to your newsletter. It can be used to break up the page so as to not overwhelm the reader with too much content.
    • Don’t create a five-page newsletter. Keep it to a page or two. The newsletter is designed to provide quick, digestible information that grabs your reader’s attention.

    Newsletter frequency. How often should you send your newsletter? Most people choose to send a weekly, monthly or quarterly newsletter. It all comes down to your own personal goals and what your business offers. If you have a lot of events happening on your farm or are very customer-focused, sending a weekly newsletter is a good idea. If you don’t think you’ll have much time to put into a weekly newsletter, go for the quarterly and make sure to spend time filling it with all the great things that have gone over the last three months. A monthly newsletter is a good, doable balance for busy farmers who need to keep their customers updated but don’t have a lot of time.

    Just remember — your newsletter is meant to attract your target audience and give them a reason to stick with you. Do what’s realistic for your business and have fun with it!

    Social Media and Your Farm

    Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — just a few social media platforms you can use to easily promote your farm. And they are pretty simple to set up and maintain! Our advice is to focus on building out your presence on one platform and slowly work your way into creating more accounts once you get the hang of marketing through social media. Here’s a closer look at some great ways you can use social media on your farm

    A thought-out, well-run digital presence can benefit your farm in many ways. With the right goals and strategy in place, you can give your farm a digital edge. Your next steps? Go dig around the Internet and do some research. What kinds of farming websites exist? What kind of information do other farms include in their e-newsletters? Start following some successful farm’s on social media. Take a look at what already exists on the web to gain ideas on what might work or not work for your own strategy.

    Remember — it’s all about knowing your audience and what they’re looking for. At the end of the day, it’s about making your customer happy.