Written by Ken Blight (Albion MI), Zach Ducheneaux (Eagle Butte, SD), and Jesse Larios (Brawley, CA). All are Lead Farmers in the Farm Journal Foundation's Farmers Feed the World Program. They are also all cattle producers.
Early in March, a massive wildfire swept across the Southern Plains states, burning 1.5 million acres of grassland, and affecting farmers and ranchers in three states--Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The human cost was significant--the rapidly moving fire killed seven people, either trying to save cattle or flee their homes. While the economic cost is still being tallied, we do know that at least 20,000 head of cattle and hogs were killed and an estimated 18,000 miles of fencing was destroyed.
Most Americans are unable to imagine living--let alone earning a livelihood-- in an area where the distance between neighbors is measured in miles rather than yards. The heart of this region is a weathered and tough group of Americans that for generations have provided our great nation with much of its beef supply. Although adversity is no stranger to these folks, the wildfires that raged through their ranches this early spring devastated even these rugged cattle producers. Asking for help is surely a foreign concept for a people as self-reliant as these. The isolation of living on the prairie leaves you with yourself, a few neighbors, and our creator to look out for each other. But this time, the wildfires left little for neighbors to share when entire herds, feed supply, equipment, barns and homes were consumed by the fires.
As Americans, we take a lot of pride in our country. Pride in our history, culture, and land but most of all, our willingness and ability to help others in times of need. We do not wait for FEMA to show up, but rather pitch in almost as soon as the wind dies down or the waters begin to recede. In many ways, the March wildfires in the Southern plains were Agriculture’s version of Katrina. In a matter of hours, the wildfires changed a landscape--both land and people. Our agricultural communities were immediately gathering vital commodities that they knew were going to be vital for the recovery of their fellow Ag members. Trailer after trailer, countless waving American Flags, were seen rolling down highways headed north, south, east, and west. Farmers from across the nation donated truckloads of hay and other supplies to help ease the initial shock of the devastating fires.
No one waited for government intervention, payment, or acknowledgement. Why?? That’s who we are. That’s how we were brought up. This sense of community is part of our culture, and our way of life. That’s the heartbeat of America. On occasions like this massive wildfire, and the Atlas snow storm in western South Dakota in the autumn of 2013 which killed thousands of cattle, we have seen the impact that a lack of specific infrastructure implemented by local, state, or federal officials have on a producer’s ability to recover. We hope that producers' readiness to help a neighbor in need can serve as an example to public officials of the importance of having thoughtful, timely, and meaningful assistance available to those in distress in both town and country.
A few months have passed, but the hard pull of rebuilding the herds, fences, and facilities that took these hard-working families generations to build, has barely begun. Farm Journal Foundation and Farm Journal Media has teamed up with the Howard G. Buffet Foundation in establishing the Wildfire Relief Challenge to raise money for these ranchers to rebuild. For every dollar you donate, the Buffett Foundation will match with an additional dollar, up to a total of $1 million. Visit www.wildfirerelieffund.org to take part.
Please join us, as many in the agricultural community have already done, and help these hard-working farmers and ranchers to continue the work of rebuilding miles and miles of fence, restocking their herds and replacing equipment left in ashes. Since April, donations to the Wildfire Relief Challenge already totals more than $600,000. Let's keep the momentum going!