Backup, backup, backup: It may be the easiest way to survive a disaster


Last Thursday, a tornado laid a path of destruction through the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center campus and surrounding community. In light of all the destruction, the true blessing was the minimal injuries to people and animals, especially with the Wayne County Fair wrapping up just down the road.

Total cost

Considerable time will pass before the total cost of the storm can be calculated. Destroyed or damaged buildings and equipment, disrupted experiments, lost samples, lost data, lost time, lost grants.

I really don’t know how data has been backed up for many projects. Before computers, data was written down, and until it was published, there might only have been one copy of the raw data set.

Now there is likely the raw data, then what is entered into the computer, then what is backed up. The question now is where was it backed up? If it was backed up at the same location, both the original and the backup may be gone.

We should learn an important lesson from Thursday’s tornado. What are we backing up and where are we keeping it?

Lesson to learn

For a dairy farm, this question applies to both the production and the business management systems. Whether you use a paper-based or a computerized records management system, they should be backed up at least once a year with that backup stored off-site, in a bank safe deposit box or with a trusted individual. The bigger the business, the more frequent the backup.


This backup would be for dealing with a major calamity and should also include important information like bank account numbers, insurance policies, etc.

Frankly, I don’t think an annual backup is adequate. Most of us have learned the hard way that computerized systems should be backed up weekly or monthly to prevent data loss when the dreaded computer “crash” occurs.

Did we say backup?

These frequent backups are important but are usually kept on-site. Invest in another flash drive or two to keep backups of both the financial and production management systems off-site.

How often should you refresh off-site backups?

Questions to answer

If (God forbid), a disaster happened at your farm and the on-farm computer files were gone, how would you answer these questions accurately?

How many cows do you have today? How many heifers? How many calves? Where are they? What do they need to be fed? Who is due? When are they due? Who should be bred? Who could be sold if you have to down-size? How much money is in the checking account? Where are your insurance policies? How do you contact the insurance agent? What is your machinery and equipment inventory?

A totally unexpected question asked of some survivors of Hurricane Katrina; “Can you prove you owned the cattle you said you owned?”

Accuracy counts

How long do you want to take finding those answers and how accurate do you want them to be? That will determine how often you should refresh off-site backups. You won’t have the luxury of time to reconstruct months of data since the last backup.

Hopefully, you will never need to use that information. I know my colleagues at OARDC never thought they would.


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