They’ve planted crops for farmers who have lost arms in equipment accidents and a few who have been hospitalized with serious illnesses.
Farm Rescue volunteers recently finished their second planting season, helping farmers in the Dakotas and Minnesota who have suffered a financial hardship through injury, sickness or an act of nature.
The nonprofit group now intends to expand its scope and help six farmers harvest their crops this fall, said Bill Gross, an airplane pilot and North Dakota native who founded the organization.
“This year I think we’ll ultimately end up helping about 20 farmers, and next year we’re hoping we can do 20 just for planting,” Gross said.
Farm Rescue seeded about 8,000 acres this year for 12 North Dakota farmers and one producer each in South Dakota and Minnesota.
The group relies on donations, volunteers and corporate sponsors. Gross said a three-year, $120,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation pledged to the group earlier this year is the main reason it can expand into harvesting. It started accepting applications this week, and there is no deadline.
Farm Rescue also is considering expanding into other Midwest states, though that depends on funding.
“We’ve received calls from a number of states ... businessmen and farmers alike,” Gross said. “They say, ’We’ve heard about your program. Can you guys come and operate in our state?”’
Any money Farm Rescue raises in a state stays there, so money for operations in such states as Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa would have to come from those states, Gross said.
“We’re growing as quickly as we can, given funding constraints,” he said. “Our goal is to get Farm Rescue to be a household word.”
Farmers and ranchers in North Dakota or within 50 miles of the North Dakota border in South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana must meet certain farm size and gross sales guidelines to be eligible for the Farm Rescue program. They must be ill, injured or hit by a weather disaster such as a tornado. The program does not distribute cash.
Farm Rescue has an annual budget this year of about $100,000. It has 67 corporate sponsors and dozens of volunteers.
Gene Spichke, a central North Dakota farmer who has been retired for three years, decided to help operate equipment for Farm Rescue this past spring after learning about the group at an agriculture show.
“I farmed all my life. ... Fortunately I never had a problem myself,” he said. “This is something a guy can do for someone else who’s hurting. That’s rewarding.