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Jasper County Tribune

Help thy neighbor

Baxter farmers haul 100 donated hay bales to flood-stricken Nebraska

BAXTER — A handful of Baxter farmers thumbed through their social media feeds and saw the images and videos of saturated pastures, spoiled crops and the watermarked grain bins in Nebraska and Iowa.

They saw reports of floodwaters washing over Midwestern farmland less than a month ago, which had devastated several communities and forced farmers working in some of the top agricultural producing states in the country to start over from scratch.

Even if those local farmers were not heavily, or directly, affected by the flash floods, they knew how great a loss the muddied waters had caused for their fellow agriculture workers.

But help was on the way.

Knowing many farmers would be without resources to feed what remains of their livestock, the group of Baxter farmers and ranchers collected and delivered more than 100 bales of hay to two drop-off points in Grand Island, Neb.

Shelli Eatwell, of Collins, said the hay was donated by farmers living in the counties of Jasper, Story and Polk and was hauled by four semi trucks on March 30. Coincidentally, the Nebraska couple collecting the hay at one of the drop-off points was Deb and Bret Baxter. Some of the other hay bales were transported to another location for possible airdrops to stranded livestock.

“I can’t imagine what the people are going through,” Eatwell said of her Nebraskan neighbors. Prior to the the most recent haul, she also orchestrated the transportation of three other hay loads to the flood-stricken state.

Prior to the caravan drop off, farmers like Kalvin Simbro, of Baxter, drove a pickup and trailer from farm to farm to find and transport as many hay bales as possible to Brock Hansen’s shop in town the week before. When the loads arrived, Hansen or another rancher hopped into the driver’s cab of the nearest tractor and stacked the 1,500-pound bales onto the beds of lowboy trailers.

“We just started loading them as they came in,” Hansen recalled. “We finished them up on Friday and left Saturday morning around 6:30 … I follow some guys that are out in (Nebraska) on Twitter and Snapchat and got to know how bad it is. When you start digging into it and looking at it, it’s not like the Skunk River coming out. There are parts that are just gone.”

Troy Wesselink, of Baxter, was one of the farmers who helped haul the hay on the more than 300-mile trek across the state. Although he did not see any of the heavily flooded areas first-hand, he did hear a story about one farmer that had lost 600 bales of hay to the floods. Gone in an instant.

Wesselink couldn’t help but think of how he might feel if he was in the same predicament. He shook his head.

“We may run short of hay, but we don’t ever run out,” he said Tuesday. “Those guys had nothing. They’re gone. They were talking about an 11-foot wall of water coming in … (A farmer) said there was about 75 deer running over a hill. He didn’t know what was happening. Big ol’ wall of water came and took a hundred head (of cattle). Gone.”

Rancher Jordan Vansice, of Baxter, said each cow could be worth about $1,500 and would total to about a $150,000 loss, maybe even more if some were expecting calves. Hansen said if the farmers didn’t lose their livestock to the floods, then they likely lost their grain bins, their equipment or their home. 

“Some people lost it all,” Hansen said. “We didn’t see the destruction that I thought we might when we went there. But we didn’t really get down into the heart of it where it was bad.”

Officially declared a disaster by President Donald J. Trump in March, a number of afflicted states, including Iowa and Nebraska, have been granted federal assistance to combat the property damages caused by the historic flood.

Although recovery operations are in full effect, the livelihoods of farmers are still at risk. An April 2 article by Reuters reporter Tom Polansek indicated there is nothing the U.S. government can do under its current laws and disaster-aid programming to compensate the costs of damaged crops in storage.

Drowned livestock and wet grain leave very little options for farmers, although the United States Department of Agriculture can offer some relief for animals killed during flash floods or other natural disasters. Regardless of the amount of federal aid farmers will be provide, Hansen and company said they know it’s going to be hard for those affected to bounce back.

Hansen said, “You can’t express or put it in words the amount of pride that a farmer puts into his livelihood — blood, sweat and tears — and it was all gone within a minute. We, as farmers, know how hard we fight for our living. Even when it’s good.”

Farmers from all across the country are doing what they can to help their peers in Nebraska. An April 1 article by Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan Regional Editor Randy Rockendorf reported a Michigan man and his 17-year-old daughter hauling hay bales to flood-devastated areas of Nebraska.

This isn't surprising.

"The camaraderie amongst farmers," Hansen said, "is strong."

The proof was in the repeated honks and waves the caravan received upon dropping off their hay bale donations. 

“That about gave me goosebumps,” Hansen said. 

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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