LAWRENCE, Mich. — When massive wildfires destroyed thousands of acres of Kansas farmland in March, Jerry Pilch said his heart went out to the farmers.
“Kansas and Oklahoma they get fires all the times,” said Pilch. “It was dry, low humidity. They had the winds we had a couple of weeks ago but they had them for three days.”
Those few days of destruction left 650,000 acres barren . Pilch is a farmer himself. He owns and operates the Southwestern Michigan Feed Inc. and was recently talking with local farmers about how they could help their comrades in Kansas get through this difficult time. Hay was already being shipped to them but as a farmer he knew more was needed.
“So we reached out to some big distributors and they kinda didn’t want anything to do with it,” said Pilch during an interview at his mill. “Their excuse was ‘we don’t sell feed in Kansas.’"
They carried on, he said, and launched a campaign to help the farmers by requesting people donate $8 for a 50-pound bag of cattle feed that’ll be shipped to farmers not only in Kansas but in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas too. They posted it on Facebook and immediately hundreds of people responded.
“I never in a million years thought it would escalate this much,” said Pilch. “We got more than enough feed going down there than we can even make. So we’re having another mill, we reached out to, make us some feed.”
Pilch said 4-H groups were knocking on doors asking people to donate. Local churches and community organizations have donated. The Future Farmers of America gave them in $4,800.
“We’ve had people call from all over the state, all over this area, people from other states wanting to help out,” said Dain Webster of Riverbed Cattle. “It just became ‘Ok lets get another semi. Let’s get another truck.'”
Webster and his brother Dan were some of the first farmers wanting to help their comrades miles away. They were in the middle of filling one semi a few weeks ago. Now there’s going to be 27 heading southwest on Friday. And there’s more than just cattle feed going too.
“Anything from hay to grain, fence posts to hygiene products for the people who’ve lost their homes,” said Webster during an interview at the farm in Lawrence. “Gloves for the volunteer workers that are going to be down there. We’re dropping stuff off to them. It’s a little bit of everything that we’re taking down there.”
Like Pilch, Webster’s heart went out to the farmers when he saw the devastation. He said people not only lost pasture but barns and homes too.
“I know they would do it for us. Southern Hospitality is huge,” said Webster whose roots stem from Missouri. “Our family is from the South. So it’s how we were raised. You take care of the farmers.”
Pilch said the campaign ends on Friday and by then they’ll have at least 500 bags to ship away. The trucks are scheduled to depart at noon to make the 800-mile trip to Kansas and elsewhere. And Richardson Oil Company donated 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel to get the trucks there. When Pilch spoke with a mill down there and told them what they were doing, the woman got emotional.
“When I talked to her on the phone she sounded like she was going to cry, like ‘why would you guys care?’” said Pilch. “It’s just farmers helping farmers. Basically somebody’s gotta do something. Farmers always help each other out.”