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‘They need it more than I do’: Ranchers donate hay, supplies to flood-affected areas

August Heupel on Monday, April 1, donated two loads of hay to go to Nebraska flood relief efforts. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service

MEDINA, N.D. — When August Heupel learned about an effort to send some hay to Nebraska ranchers who are dealing with the aftermath of historic flooding, he didn’t hesitate to donate to the cause.

“It’s tough to look at, so I can’t imagine living it,” Heupel said of the flooding.

On the morning of April 1, two trucks out of Nebraska drove to Heupel’s hayfields northeast of Medina to pick up 68 bales. But as August’s father, Joe, tried to load the donation with a front-wheel assist John Deere, it became apparent that the early-spring weather had kept the bales frozen to the ground. Rather than rip the bales apart, the group moved to the Heupel’s yard, where August Heupel was ready with a payloader to put together the loads with hay close to home.

The extra effort, he said, was well worth it.

“We were fortunate to have a little extra, so it just felt like they need it more than I do,” Heupel said. “We’re going to be OK. Those guys need it.”

Three loads of hay in all were leaving from the area around Medina and Tappen that morning, heading to Knobbe Feedyards in West Point, Neb., where it will be distributed to ranchers in need.

The ranchers donating to the cause were in good company — hay from across the country has been heading to the areas that experienced flooding last month.

On March 30, a convoy of nine loads of hay, a load of fencing supplies and a load of household goods left western North Dakota en route to Fullerton, Neb. Put together as part of Farm Rescue’s Operation Hay Lift, the group had law enforcement escorts at times as it traveled down Interstate 94 to Highway 281.

Pastor Albert Lautenschlager of Rural Reach Ministry in Keene, N.D., said the convoy was a group effort among a number of truckers, farmers and others who donated to the cause. Lautenschlager, who grew up in Nebraska, said Fullerton was “toward the beginning end of the flood,” and didn’t receive as much damage as some places down river. However, the Extension agent in Nance County knew of immediate needs for hay in the area.

“Eight of the loads will be spoken for right away,” Lautenschlager said.

A group called Ohio Relief Haulers planned an effort that was expected to start with about 20 trucks leaving Streetsboro, Ohio, on April 5. More trucks were expected to join up through Ohio and Indiana. The group expected to have nearly 50 trucks by the time they arrived in Sioux City, Iowa.

Jenny Stortz and her husband, Nick, helped deliver supplies to areas hit by wildfires in 2017, and when they saw news of this year’s flooding, they wanted to help again. They got connected with an acquaintance, Heather Kleiboer, through a Nebraska Farm Bureau Facebook page and began collecting feed, farm supplies and household goods in Minnesota.

While the outpouring of supplies and monetary donations has been heartening, Stortz said the number of people willing to help has been surprising.

“We probably have more volunteers to drive than items to bring,” she said.

The loads organized by the Stortzes and Kleiboers were expected to pull out over the weekend. Finding a home for the supplies has been a bit of a challenge.

“Knowing farmers are often stoic and they find it hard to ask or seek out help, it’s been a challenge to actually find the farmers, but through networking of different Facebook groups, I am finding more success at finding the actual farmer,” Stortz said.

The Stortzes planned to bring a skid-loader, small bulldozer and Ranger and provide some manual labor while in Nebraska.

Not every effort has involved semis and hay trailers. In Polk County, Minn., 4-H members were working to fill a stock trailer with square bales of hay or straw, bagged feed for livestock and pets, mineral, milk replacer, calf bottles, shovels, pitchforks, brooms, buckets, fencing supplies, water jugs, snacks and “anything you would be lost without if you lost your barn.”

Truck drivers Andy Sebade and Ryan Fuchser, who were taking the loads from Heupel’s place, said the water has started to recede in Nebraska, revealing the damage left behind by the floodwaters and ice. Roads and bridges in the state remain in rough shape, and repairs could take years to make, they said.

The needs in the state won’t be filled any time soon, but ranchers are hoping to help do what they can.

“Help out if you can, whether it’s fencing supplies or hay or cash or whatever,” Heupel said.

To donate money or supplies through the central North Dakota effort Heupel donated to, call Choice Financial in Medina at 701-486-3184.