Eddie Fahley had a hard time putting into words what he saw in the flood-ravaged areas of Nebraska.
“The pictures really don’t tell the whole story,” he says. “It’s devastating and really hard to take in what they are dealing with. And it’s not just a temporary disaster. Farmland that took several generations to cultivate will take years to rebuild.”
Fahley was part of a group from Michigan, organized under the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Ag Community Relief, that has made four trips with trucks loaded with supplies to aid farmers in Nebraska and Iowa after a historic bomb cyclone and mass flooding in mid-March hit major portions of those states. Blizzard conditions in April have only added to the suffering.
Almost like a tidal wave, Nebraska farmers barely had time to prepare for the onslaught of flooding that also included enormous ice blocks — some the size of a truck — that bulldozed homes, barns, livestock and anything else in their path, says Fahley, who is vice president of Ag Community Relief and an operations manager with Helena Agri-Enterprises.
Ag Community Relief, which is run by a group of 10 core members from central Michigan, has been described as a “Red Cross for farmers.”
“Somebody’s got to do it,” says Matt Schaller, president of Ag Community Relief, which was organized after the 2017 Great Plains wildfires. “Ag does not have a good backup source for any type of relief after a disaster. When hurricanes hit on the coast, large nonprofits fill warehouses of supplies, but there is no such support for ag.”
Each of the 2,000-mile round trips, which included joining a 52-truck convoy organized by Ohio Relief Haulers on April 5, brought hay and other feed supplies, fence posts and wire, personal care kits, vet supplies, bottled water, and much more to those in need.
“The devastation just blew my mind,” says Travis Hamlin of Ohio Relief Haulers. “When you see a normal river rushing, you might see a few wood pieces 3 or 4 foot long floating downstream. Out there, trees were everywhere — in fields, up against houses and alongside the road. When the water receded, they were left in fields. Corn leaves were everywhere. We saw them in branches 10 feet above the road and raked up like leaves in people’s front yards.”
Rising water levels breached levees along the Missouri River and forced several towns to evacuate.
Thousands of livestock were lost, including calves and pregnant cows, which represents a multiyear setback. Floodwaters carried trees, debris, sand and silt to the middle of farm fields. Crop losses, both harvested and not yet planted, will take a toll on growers.
“Many of them are still trying to separate what has value versus the damaged commodity,” Fahley says.
It’s been reported that more than 2,000 homes have been affected, but the agricultural industry has taken a massive blow. Early estimates include a $400 million to $450 million loss in the livestock sector, a $400 million to $500 million loss related to grain production, and a $400 million to $500 million loss in infrastructure.
Damage is estimated in the billions of dollars to grain and livestock operations, transportation infrastructure and river movement across the Midwest. Some are saying it’s even worse than the massive 2011 flood.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has declared more than 75% of the state’s counties disaster areas.
However, Schaller says supplies have been coming in from all over the country.
“Some of the wildfire victims, who were in desperate need in 2017, have brought in loads of supply,” says Schaller, who is a truck driver for Hunt Farms of Davison, Mich. “They, of all people, know exactly how much it means to have that support.”
Fahley adds, “Despite the widespread loss and the financial challenges they face, the consensus is still positive, which is amazing. They have the drive to pull through, and we were happy to help with that rebuilding.”
Support adds up
Donations have been pouring into Ag Community Relief from all areas of the state.
“Several 4-H groups and the Sanilac County FFA have been contributing,” Schaller says. “The Dream Catchers 4-H Club out of Genessee County, headed by Kylee and Cole Munford, raised enough money to buy a full palate of all-stock feed — roughly $400 worth. It’s been like a domino effect. We had hoped for enough donations to fill one truck, but people from all over the state are getting behind us, and we lined up more trucks.”
A partnership with Kalmbach Feed out of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, has developed a Range Cube feed. “It’s feed that is like what they are using out West,” Schaller says. “People can sponsor a pallet or individual bags. It can be purchased on our website with a link to the store.”
On the loaded trucks, several round hay bales were draped with U.S. flags, and one trailer is lettered with the organization’s name.
“People honk and wave at us in support as we’re going down the road,” Schaller says. “We don’t ask for fanfare, but it’s nice to see so much support. It’s not uncommon for us to pull into a truck stop and have someone donate $100 to the effort.”
Michigan Farm Bureau, Schaller says, backed the trip by covering the fuel cost.
“Throughout the year we raise money to set aside for when disaster hits,” he says. That included a need closer to home when a tornado hit a farm in Shiawassee County, west of Flint, last year.
More trips west are likely, as Schaller says it will take months or even years for the area to recover. “As long as people want to donate, we are happy to get it out there,” he says.
Fahley adds, “This effort is on not any one of us — it’s a collaboration and collective effort, and the farmers out there are grateful. It’s nice to know we are making a difference.”
Michigan Farm Bureau has compiled a video from one of the trips. View it at bit.ly/Michiganaid.
To learn more about this outreach, visit agcommunityrelief.com, where there also is a list of desired items and where monetary donations can be made.
Monetary donations also may be sent to Ag Community Relief, P.O. Box 616, Lapeer, MI 48446.