Farmers standing on farm in Iowa

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

A harvest rescue during health crises

December 1, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

Grant Woodley of Clarion began farming in 1997. As part of his Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) for FFA, he rented 80 acres. It was then that he started his career in farming.

Through college and marriage to his wife Nicole, the Woodleys’ farming operation grew with more acres and the addition of a hog barn.

This year’s harvest was different. Woodley couldn’t be in the truck hauling his crop to market. Nor was he able to assist their longtime farming partners and neighbors, the Zwiefels, with their harvest.

Instead, his days have been filled with therapy. Therapy to help him recover from brain abscesses and multiple neurosurgeries from a diagnosis he received in March.

As if that wasn’t enough, Nicole was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer doctors suspect is a side effect of radiation treatments she received to combat breast cancer a decade ago.

Bringing in the harvest

Realizing they couldn’t manage this year’s harvest on their own, the Woodleys turned to Farm Rescue, who brought in the machinery and harvest crew to help harvest their 500 acres of soybeans.

“Coordinating harvest is a lot even when you’re not sick, so for them to come do this is awesome,” says Grant, an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) farmer-member.

Farm Rescue’s mission is to help family farms and ranches bridge crises so they have an opportunity to continue viable operations. It’s available for various needs for farm and ranch families experiencing a major injury, illness or natural disaster.

“It’s all about providing a hand up, not a handout,” says Dan Erdmann, Farm Rescue marketing program manager. “We do not give money away; we offer tangible field support to get farmers and ranchers through one season, to keep them going for the next season.”

When it came time to harvest soybeans back in October, the Woodleys stood back, reflected on the past growing season and voiced their gratitude.

“Their help has allowed us to rest,” says Nicole, adding the help has put them at ease. “It is one less thing keeping us up at night.”

Farmers helping those in need

Farm partners

Mark Zweifel’s combine ran side-by-side Farm Rescue’s combine in the Woodley’s soybean fields. The Woodley and Zweifel family partnership dates back four generations.

“This is pretty humbling,” says Zweifel. “Grant and Nicole have been through a lot this summer. Farm Rescue has really come through; we would have gotten the harvest done, but time is of the essence, and we appreciate the help.”

Everything has gone smoothly, and they are a great organization to work with.”

Asking for help

Grant says he isn’t afraid to ask for help, but appreciates the encouragement he received from Bre Wagner, ISA producer services manager, Iowa Corn, and others who helped write and submit the application for assistance.

“Our job on the producer services team at the Iowa Soybean Association is to assist farmers by connecting them to programming and resources that help them farm better and be more profitable,” says Wagner.

Typically, that is through an ISA program. This time, it wasn’t.

“It’s what they needed,” Wagner says. “Our farmers are always top of mind in ways we can help them, and Farm Rescue was the support they needed during this time.”

Farm Rescue Combine

It takes a village

Farm Rescue depends on 200 to 300 volunteers each year. Since 2005, Farm Rescue has served more than 1,000 farm families in eight states.

“It is an incredible team effort,” says Erdmann. “It is the ultimate ‘takes a village’ scenario. Our volunteers are boots on the ground, true heroes.”

Keith Barkema, a retired farmer from Klemme, doesn’t see himself as a hero. He has volunteered with Farm Rescue for nearly a decade.

“It’s good to give. We don’t get paid; we get rewarded,” says Barkema, a retired farmer from Klemme. Barkema was driving the Farm Rescue semi and grain trailer, hauling the Woodley’s soybean crop to the elevator.

“It’s the hugs, the tears and the feeling you have when you finish up.”

“These guys need help,” says Derek Nord, who was operating the Farm Rescue combine during harvest on the Woodley farm. “This is a speed bump that could transcend their farm for years.” A corporate John Deere employee from Bondurant, this was Nord’s first opportunity to volunteer with Farm Rescue.

“Without Farm Rescue, this could be something they wouldn’t recover from. We aren’t just helping them this season; our assistance will help them for many years,” Nord says. “It takes an army, and we have one.”

The Farm Rescue assistance was a blessing, says Grant and Nicole, who are both part-time pastors in the Lutheran Church ELCA. They are also parents to Dietrich, Samuel, Alyna, Junia and Andres.

“It means the world,” says Nicole. “It’s been a tough year. This is amazing.”

About Farm Rescue

Farm Rescue president and founder Bill Gross, a Boeing 747 aircraft captain, grew up on his family’s farm in North Dakota. His father’s concern about what would happen to their farm if something tragic happened never escaped his mind.

Those fears made Gross decide he would one day be that good Samaritan — buying a tractor to help farm families in need.

“That is the initial seed that planted Farm Rescue,” says Erdmann.

Starting with just 10 cases in North Dakota, Gross soon realized this type of assistance was not an isolated need. Currently, Farm Rescue assists farmers and ranchers in eight states: Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota and most recently, Illinois.

The organization has built up a solid line of farm equipment through donations, capital campaigns and grants.