By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Kansas produces a significant portion of the nation’s food supply, and now, some locals are working on plans to help keep that supply safe.
Last week, the Extension Disaster Education Network hosted a workshop in Liberal to train community stakeholders to assist in the enhancement of a local emergency operations plan.
Seward County K-State Extension agent Mike Hanson last week’s Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Planning seminar is just the beginning of getting prepared for a disaster.
“We’re going to meet again on the 8th and 9th out here,” he said. “We’re going to call it the Community Agrosecurity Planning Team. There’s going to be industry people from National Beef, Seaboard, Extension personnel, law enforcement, county emergency, and we hope to have a couple of producers serve on it, too.”
Hanson said while agrosecurity has not been examined as well as other emergency preparation, he believes a good plan is in place, and last week’s workshop gave locals ideas on tweaking the plan.
“We may not have to tweak a whole lot of it,” he said. “I think just knowing what everybody can bring to the table is a big thing.”
Hanson said this includes looking at methods to help with disasters in agribusiness.
“We’re going to be there to help out and find out the needs of whoever’s got the problem and help them get through that problem,” he said.
Hanson said should a foreign animal disease make its way to the area, a great bit of the nation’s food supply would need to be euthanized.
“Kansas produced in 2008 14.2 percent of the U.S. wheat production,” he said. “We ranked number one in flour mill, number one in sorghum produced, number three in cattle and calves on farms and cattle slaughtered.”
Hanson said depending on the level of disaster, an agricultural emergency could be harder to plan for than others.
“If it was a foreign animal disease, it would be a lot harder,” he said. “We’d have to have stop movement of any animals coming in here. Find a home for them. Find out if it is for sure that disease and go from there.”
Hanson said a disease such as foot and mouth could mean destroying as many as 20,000 cattle.
“You’re probably going to want to euthanize them and put them in a pit,” he said. “That would take so many people to come here and get that ready. You’re going to have to do decontamination of people going in and out. Somebody’s going to have to get food to people and animals.”
Hanson said no matter how well prepared a community is for a disaster, it can still happen.
“It may be natural, accidental or intentional,” he said. “I think the industries, as a whole, have very good security and plans in place, but if somebody would want to come in and do something, if there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Hanson said a lot of money is being spent to destroy the U.S. economy, and this is just one way of doing it.
“The holes might be not knowing who’s got what and what assets to bring and making the net tighter and more secure so if something does happen, we can minimize the damage,” he said.
In last week’s workshop, Hanson said emergency personnel, Extension educators, public health workers, first responders, elected officials, veterinarians, ag producers and volunteer organization representatives learned how to write standard operating guidelines and set standard operating procedures.
“I think more of what was learned was not so much what we haven’t done, but to build on what we do have,” he said. “Kansas is way ahead of most states as far as having an agricultural emergency plan in place, and I think Southwest Kansas is ahead of the rest of the state as far as that goes.”
Hanson said fear of having a catastrophe or if one happens has helped in this manner.
“There’s disasters in the United States every day,” he said. “It may be only a disaster to one or two people, or it may be a disaster to the whole town. I think it’s the fear of the big one. Homeland security brought agriculture to the forefront on this because they know food is a good way to slow us down.”
While there are many types of agricultural disasters, Hanson believes the biggest threat to the industry is foreign animal disease.
“In a small area from the Texas Panhandle up into Southwest Kansas, there’s so many cattle and hogs that are on feed,” he said. “Animals such as pigs and cows are pretty curious. You can just get the disease on a handkerchief and throw it in, and all you got to do is touch noses with another pig. It’ll spread.”
Hanson said killing massive amounts of crops would be more difficult, and water is likewise a big issue when it comes to planning for disasters.
“That’s not necessarily under agriculture, but it does mean a whole lot more to us for our irrigation purposes than it is for other people,” he said.
Hanson said having major highways in place in the area with U.S.-54 and U.S.-83 adds to the need for security measures with the amount of ag traffic coming through the region.
“They’d have to stop and find a place to feed all the cattle,” he said. “It’s a pretty big issue. With the amount of cattle on feed from the Texas Panhandle up through Southwest Kansas, it’s a nice little corridor.”
Hanson said Seward County has a good supply of people to help with emergencies. He added if a foreign animal disease should move in, state veterinarians and officials from the federal government would come to the area.
“A foreign animal disease is considered a terrorist act,” he said. “The FBI would eventually come in here and run the show. One of the best things about being where we’re at is we’ve got neighbors in Texas County, Okla., or Ochiltree County, Texas, or all our Kansas neighbors that are going to be willing to help us out because they know we’re going to be willing to help them out too.”
Hanson said all of this is not meant to scare people.
“It’s being prepared,” he said. “Prepare for the worst. Pray for the best.”