John Deere Farm Rescue combine in soybean field

Farm Rescue helped with Grant and Nicole Woodley's harvest. Due to health issues, the family sought assistance from the program to help harvest their soybeans. (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman).

Lending a helping hand

October 5, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

On a beautiful October afternoon, it would have been Grant and Nicole Woodley synchronizing the combines and grain wagons through their farm fields near Clarion. But on this day, they stood back, reflecting on the past few months and voicing their gratitude.

Instead, volunteers through Farm Rescue coordinated the machinery and harvest crew to make it happen.

Earlier this year, Woodley was hospitalized and diagnosed with brain abscesses. He has undergone multiple neurosurgeries and is still recovering.
During this time, Woodley’s wife, Nicole, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, a side effect of radiation treatments she received to combat breast cancer a decade ago.

“Coordinating harvest is a lot when even you’re not sick, so for them to come do this is awesome,” says Grant, an 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.”

John Deere combine in soybean field

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.

Farm Rescue hit a milestone of assisting 1,000 farm families in June.

Through donations, capital campaigns and grants, the organization has built up a solid line of farm equipment. Through a partnership with John Deere, local dealerships provided five combines up to 175 engine hours.
“That has been a great partnership for us because we can source those dealers across our territory,” Erdmann says.

Volunteer to help make a difference

Farm Rescue depends on 200 to 300 volunteers each year.

“It is an incredible team effort,” says Erdmann. “Farm Rescue has grown a lot since we started in 2005. It is the ultimate ‘takes a village’ scenario. Our volunteers are boots on the ground, true heroes.”

For Derek Nord, a corporate John Deere employee from Bondurant, harvest on the Woodley farm was his first opportunity to volunteer for Farm Rescue.

“These guys need help,” he says. “This is a speed bump that could transcend their farm for years. Without Farm Rescue, this could be something they do not recover from. We aren’t just helping them this season; our assistance will help them for many years. It takes an army, and we have one.”

Woodley hopes other farm families going through an injury, illness or natural disaster apply, saying the application was a brief, simple process.

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