Volunteers Celebrate Farm Rescuer Day

Farm Rescuers Help Farmers Even When It's Tough to Ask for Help

Susan Payne
By  Susan Payne , DTN Social Media and Young Farmer Editor
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For five years, Farm Rescuer volunteer Ron Donohue has helped farmers in need. (Photo courtesy of Farm Rescuer)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Ron Donohue and Albert Lautenschlager come from different backgrounds and different states, but they share a common purpose: to help farmers in need.

Blakesburg, Iowa's Donohue worked in the seed industry for 40 years because purchasing land and farming wasn't feasible for him when he explored career options, he told DTN. Lautenschlager, of Keene, North Dakota, said in an interview that he grew up on a farm and became a diesel farm technician; he now serves a different calling as a missionary and pastor in his state.

Both of them decided to become Farm Rescuer volunteers to help farmers in need, even though they are not farmers themselves.

Collectively, they've now served 14 years with Farm Rescuer, a nonprofit that provides planting, harvesting or haying assistance to farm and ranch families who experienced a major illness, injury or natural disasters.


"Accidents can happen no matter how careful you are being," said Dan Erdmann, marketing program manager at Farm Rescuer. "The farmers we help are often going through cancer treatments, health issues, loss of limbs, drought, catastrophic flooding -- anything you can imagine, we've seen at this point. Although going through tough situations, their tenacity remains in wanting to continue their operations."

March 16 is National Farm Rescuer Day to help thank volunteers such as Donohue and Lautenschlager for their help but can be celebrated by anyone who supports farmers and ranchers in need.

Farm Rescuer volunteers assist farmers to plant or harvest, and with the help of a field operations manager, they perform the work exactly how the farmer would want it done.

"We have top-notch equipment, and we're using the best equipment to do the best possible job in their field," Donohue said. "We try to go back later in the summer and visit with the farm family and look at the crops and see how well we did. We always want to know what we did well and what we can improve on."

Volunteers are not required to have a farm background or currently be farmers, but many of them bring those qualities to the table from childhood experiences or working in the agriculture industry.

"Every single one of those farm families are important to the rural areas they live around," Erdmann told DTN. "Our volunteers have a wide variety of backgrounds, but they are bonded with the same desire to help someone in a time of need."


Many of the reasons these farm families need help are heartbreaking. Through volunteering, Donohue and Lautenschlager understand how dangerous of a profession farming and ranching can be. They've witnessed farmers dealing with broken backs and knees due to livestock accidents, machinery incidents that require amputation, and illnesses such as cancer or long COVID-19.

"One gentleman had long COVID and other health issues that coincided with that. He never asked for help before, and he finally realized he needed help and was immensely grateful for what we did. It was a case we got to see a life impacted greatly, a farm that was able to continue on because of what we did," Lautenschlager said.

This year, Farm Rescuer is close to helping its 1,000th family.

"Farm Rescuer is a great way to give back to our fellow communities," Lautenschlager said, as he reflects on what the organization has meant to him. "In my spiritual walk, I make it a priority to serve my fellow man, and the church that I'm serving right now, they are on board with it. Many are farmers themselves, and they understand what it's like to go through a struggling time," Lautenschlager said.

For Lautenschlager and Donohue, they value a special day to recognize what they do as Farm Rescuers.

"For me it's raising awareness, getting the word out to more of the country that this exists, and this type of organization can come in and help in a crisis," said Donohue.

"It's a day of honor, a day that I enjoy seeing come around every year. Farm Rescuer as an organization makes me feel like I'm valued and important," said Lautenschlager.


"It's a big day for us to simply say thank you to the people who make our work possible, but there's not one isolated event, it's for anyone who supports farmers in need. We're using it as an opportunity to give thanks to anyone in ag that's feeding the world," said Erdmann.

Farm Rescuer was founded in 2005 by a pilot named Bill Gross who wanted to "buy a tractor, be a Good Samaritan and help people and families going through a crisis," Erdmann explained.

Gross carried out his first Farm Rescuer mission in 2006, offering planting assistance for a farm family who experienced a crisis.

The organization now serves farm families in Illinois, eastern Montana, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Minnesota.

National Farm Rescuer Day was first recognized in 2017 by the National Day Calendar on the third Thursday of every March. In a 2017 news release, Gross stated, "This national day embodies the compassion, generosity and spirit of Good Samaritans throughout America who step forward to lend a helping hand to a farm family during a time of unexpected crisis. It is a call-to-action for all those who value and support our patriotic mission to become a Farm Rescuer by donating, volunteering or simply raising awareness through social media."

For more information on Farm Rescuer, visit https://farmrescuefoundation.org/….

Susan Payne can be reached at susan.payne@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @jpusan

Susan Payne

Susan Payne
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