Michigan farmers sending help after Plains wildfires

 Grazing land lost, cattle killed in fires in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado

wildfires, aid, help
Farmers in southwestern Michigan are preparing to take supplies to farmers devastated by wildfires in the Plains states. (March 21, 2017)


LAWRENCE, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s probably the biggest natural disaster you’ve never heard about — but you will if you walk into Jerry Pilch’s Southwestern Michigan Feed in Lawrence.

Near the counter are stacks of cattle feed that customers can buy to donate to farmers and ranchers devastated by a series of wildfires in the Plains states.

“Eight dollars is basically sending a bag of feed with the family’s name on it,” Pilch explained.

There are also markers for those who donate to write a sort of post card of hope on the bags.

wildfires, aid, help
Farmers in southwestern Michigan are preparing to take supplies to farmers devastated by wildfires in the Plains states. (March 21, 2017)

Many recipients of southwest Michigan’s generosity lost their livelihoods to the fires in portions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.

“It costs me more to make this than what I’m selling it for, but it’s a way for me to give back,” Pilch said. “The logistics of trucking it down there was the biggest problem.”

Enter local farmer Dain Webster, who learned of the fires from news feeds and friends who live in the fire-stricken areas.

“We just kind of started (with), ‘OK, we’re going to load up a load of hay and head down there.’ And then we got a few other farmers involved and now our group is up to 14 semis,” Webster said.

Farmers from other parts of Michigan are joining the convoys. Sunday, Michigan State Police escorted trailers hauling hay, fencing and heavy equipment to ranchers in need of relief.

The fires have spread over more than 800,000 acres, much of it grazing land. At least half a dozen deaths have been reported.

Thousands of heads of cattle have been lost. Fence lines that corralled the cattle have also come down.

“It’s about $10,000 a mile just to replace a portion of their fence. And some people have hundreds of miles of fence on one farm,” Webster said.

The losses could stretch well beyond the Plains.

“It’s going to cause the price of meat to go up. With the wheat fields getting burned up, there’s bread and other such thing that could go up,” Webster said.

Despite what farmers and ranchers are calling their own Hurricane Katrina, the disaster has generated few headlines. Maybe that’s because you don’t hear cries for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — more commonly known as FEMA — or any other alphabetic government agencies from the locals.

Farmers, Webster said, take care of each other.

“We’ve joked around, we don’t need the government,” he said. “The farmers, we’ll take care of each other. It’s always been that way. It’s how our parents raised us. You take care of the other farmers.”

The Michigan convoy has set up a GoFundMe account to help the Plains farmers.