As you go about the daily chores of running your business, it may seem far-fetched to think that your operation could be affected by terrorism. After all, your business is far removed from a major population center.

But it’s that isolation as well as agriculture’s independence and diversity that make it vulnerable.  

There’s lots of talk about foot-and-mouth disease being the “No. 1 concern.” Certainly it would effect a wide array of animals and have huge consequences. But tampering with crops would have equally widespread ramifications, including hitting your business in terms of input availability and costs.

Disease issues in other species could impact pork producers’ ability to move animals such as nursery pigs across state lines. “If avian influenza broke in North Carolina, do you think other states would let you bring in piglets from the infected area?” asked a speaker at a recent emerging-disease conference.

Tampering along the food production or distribution chain would hit your business in terms of lost confidence among domestic and export customers. It could affect a large number of people and place a heavy burden on the medical sector and the nation’s infrastructure. In the end, it would filter back to your bottom line.

At the previously noted meeting, a representative from BT Safety, a Minnesota company that has predictive-modeling and decision- making tools for terrorism-related activities offered an example involving a 50,000-gallon milk truck infected with Clostridium botulinum. The milk is processed into 170,000 pints of premium ice cream (but figure on 340,000 people because a pint should serve at least two.) Within four days 20,000 pints are consumed, 13,000 people soon become ill and 7,000 seek medical attention. Within six days the first mortality occurs and the situation continues to spiral.

Shhh…don’t offer any ideas is a common thought. Unfortunately, terrorists don’t need ideas; those implementing the 9-11 events did not lack imagination, everyone else did.

A past Washington Post article noted that the Soviet Union had developed “large-scale anti-livestock and anti-agriculture bio-weapons” in the 1970s. While they were never used, their whereabouts are unknown.

There are lots of great minds looking at terrorism issues at all levels — industry, universities and government. Are we there yet? No. Are we in a better position than a couple of years ago? Yes. But the road ahead is long.

There is no question that the prospect of terrorism — whether international or domestic — will change agriculture and the way food is produced and distributed.

My question for you is: What’s your on-farm plan? My guess is that you don’t have one, and probably think you don’t need one. But all the industry meetings, discussions and programs in the world won’t help if you and your staff remain complacent.

First responders are the critical link, and that doesn’t just mean veterinarians or crop specialists; it also means you. That involves planning ahead, talking to and educating your staff.  

It starts with things like reporting suspicious behavior. (See Profit Tips on page 30.) Learn the pathways and symptoms of diseases that might be used to impact your herd. Registering your premises for the National Animal Identification System and embracing that program is another necessary step.

Animal Agriculture Alliance held an anti-terrorist training session earlier this year. The Law Enforcement Academic Research Network has scheduled a three-day program titled “Practical Antiterrorism Training for Food, Agriculture and Other Critical Infrastructures: A Common Sense Approach.” (For more information, go to www.learninc.us) There have been and will be many more such programs.

You need to pay attention to this topic and be on the lookout. However, it’s not something you can likely tackle on your own. Attend one or more of the related programs that states, universities and commodity associations are conducting. Develop a strategy for your operation, educate your employees — and hope that you never have to use the plans you create.