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Operation Haylift returns and garners record donations for Midwestern flooding

Derek Jilek, Chris Kubal and Farm Rescue teamed-up to deliver 180 tonnes of hay to ranchers in flood-stricken Nebraska. Photo of the Operation Haylift 2016 -- Courtesy of Farm Rescue.

The Midwestern United States has experienced major flooding since mid-March, primarily along the Missouri River and its tributaries in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas. Most impacted by the flooding has been the areas in Nebraska's cattle and corn region.

On the Niobrara River, the Spencer Dam collapsed and the flooding forced evacuations as all-time record flooding swept the region. On March 15, National Guard military convoys began bringing supplies into the area and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts declared a state of emergency.

"The most extensive damage our state has ever experienced," Ricketts said of the devastation caused by the catastrophic flooding.

In response to the flooding, and understanding fully the effects on ranching and farming that such disasters carry, two North Dakotans joined forces with a farm-aid nonprofit, Farm Rescue, to collect donations of hay, fencing and other necessities and bring them to ranchers in flood-stricken Nebraska.

Derek Jilek, a Dickinson-based farmer and owner of Jilek Trucking, and Chris Kubal, a Keene-based owner of Kubal Trucking, launched the effort through social media mere days after the declaration was made.

"Chris and I really wanted to do something for those people affected by the flooding, so we started reaching out to people through social media seeking donations. We had hay donations from New Salem all the way to Williston," Jilek said. "Some people were able to donate full loads, other offered five bales here and 10 bales there."

By Friday, March 29, donations had surpassed all expectations.

"There were nine semi-trucks fully loaded with hay, a pickup and trailer that had $13,000 in fencing and livestock supplies and another pickup and trailer that was full of donations of cleaning supplies, household supplies, toiletries, etc," Jilek said. "Chris and I were surprised by the outpouring of support. It was very overwhelming in a good way."

As the outpouring of assistance reached unforeseen levels, the two North Dakotans reached out to Farm Rescue in hopes gaining the nonprofit's logistical power through the resurrecting of Farm Rescue's Operation Haylift program—first used two years ago to assist cattle producers facing drought conditions in the state.

"It grew to a point where we were a little concerned with how we were going to manage it, so we started calling friends who had trucks. Whoever was willing and able to make the trip on their own dime," Jilek said. "We contacted Farm Rescue and coordinated with them simply so we had a place to go. Once we had such a large group, we really needed Farm Rescue to help and they did."

In a move that surprised Jilek and Kubal, Stark County Sheriff's Office and Dickinson Police Department helped escort the convoy out of town and the county.

"I had seen some online videos of similar convoys and they always had a squad car escort," Sgt. Dan Kensinger, Stark County Sheriff's Office, said. "So we said, 'Let's do this,' and we met with the convoy at Tiger Discount at 6 a.m."

Dickinson Police Department began the escort operation with two officers blocking the east/west traffic on the East Business Loop/Hwy 10, allowing the 18-wheelers and accompanying pickup and trailers to leave their staging area and enter eastbound Interstate 94 in convoy style.

"We took over from DPD and escorted the convoy to Morton County," Kensinger said. "We reached out to Morton County's Sheriff's Office and asked if they would pick them up at the county line. They said 'yes.' Morton County handed the convoy off to Burleigh County and so on until they left the state. It was pretty cool to be a part of it."

The convoy was ultimately escorted by law enforcement in a tag-team effort throughout the state, as each department assisted the semi-trucks across the state from Dickinson to the South Dakota border south of Jamestown on U.S. 281.

The convoy departed Dickinson at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, March 30, and arrived in Fullerton, Neb., by 8 p.m. the same day.

"We were fortunate enough to be escorted all the way through North Dakota and about 100 miles through South Dakota," Jilek said. "Close to 50 individuals, businesses and organizations were involved in this convoy."

The hay donations came from across the state and totalled more than 360,000 pounds, and is expected to help ease pressures faced by area ranchers affected by the flooding. According to estimates by the Nebraska Farm Bureau, farm and ranch losses could surpass $1 billion.

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