Shortly after Hurricane Harvey blazed its terrible trail of destruction across Texas, CBS News aired a wonderful piece by broadcast journalist Steve Hartman about how Mother Nature’s worst brings out human nature’s best. This has been proven true time and again throughout our history.
“We saw what a trillion gallons of water can cover. But more importantly, we saw what it can uncover — our potential as a nation,” Hartman said in his “On the Road” segment. “Harvey came and pounded us with perspective.”
In the hurricane’s wake, it suddenly was difficult to remember the ugly assortment of divisive topics that had preoccupied the national news outlets in the weeks leading up to the disaster, but Americans had been at each other’s throats over politics, race and immigration. Confederate statues were being toppled, angry protesters were taking to the streets and the Trump White House was under constant fire on various fronts.
The headlines changed dramatically in the days just after the hurricane. Suddenly, other things, like providing basic food and shelter and other necessities to the victims uprooted by the hurricane, were so much more important. News reports showed people helping people, oblivious to the other person’s race, religion or political affiliation.
Lending a hand to neighbors, both near and far, is a specialty of rural America and the agriculture industry. Farm families have always been the glue that holds rural communities together and often, they’re among the first to donate or volunteer, whether it’s in their church or at the local fire department. The Country Today, over the years, has run numerous stories — simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming — about farmers rallying together to harvest crops or milk cows for a neighbor suffering from cancer or another health crisis.
We witnessed this generous spirit again last spring when wildfires ravaged parts of Kansas and Oklahoma. Wisconsin farmers, in relatively short order, rounded up loads of hay to ship to hungry livestock. We’re seeing it again this summer with the wildfires out West and the hurricanes in Texas and, more recently, in Florida.
One illustration of the power of a handful of people with good intentions was seen with the gathering of some 17,000 pounds of donated cheese plus butter for the Houston Food Bank by cheesemakers from throughout Wisconsin. They far surpassed their initial goal of 200 pounds. Just think what we could accomplish if we all had this kind of mind-set on a daily basis?
On the heels of Hurricane Irma came the 16th commemoration of 9/11 last week — another much-needed reminder that what binds us as Americans is always more important than what divides us. Change is constant, but that truth hasn’t changed.
The recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida are expected to take a heavy toll from an agricultural standpoint, as these two states are national leaders in the industry. Texas handily leads the nation as its biggest cattle producer, with about 12 million head. Many of those animals are in the flood zone. Feed and fencing materials are among the biggest needs.
A good cotton crop was expected this year on the Texas Gulf Coast, and it was much-needed after several years of dismal prices. But the losses from Harvey are forecast to reduce the expected 2-million-bale harvest by as much as 400,000 bales, according to estimates from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Florida citrus growers were scrambling last week to harvest their crops ahead of the hurricane. Florida accounts for more than half of U.S. citrus production and is the No. 1 state for oranges, according to that state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The state’s total production value for oranges in 2015 was $1.17 billion. Other crops threatened by Irma are tomatoes, green beans, cotton and peanuts. Florida sugar cane accounts for almost a quarter of all sugar produced in the U.S., with harvest set to begin shortly.
Agriculture in Texas and Florida contributes substantially to the U.S. economy, and farmers, ranchers and growers who have had their livelihoods upended by the storms will need our help in the months to come. We have little doubt that agriculturists elsewhere across this nation, including right here in the Upper Midwest, will not hesitate to come alongside these families in their time of desperation; that’s just what we do.
“It’s almost unbelievable that just weeks after Harvey, another devastating hurricane makes landfall in the U.S.,” said Joe Dykes, vice president of industry relations for the Equipment Dealers Association, which launched a Disaster Relief Fund to help offset financial needs of dealers and their employees affected by natural disasters. ”Since Hurricane Harvey, we have received several disaster relief applications daily, and we expect a similar response from those affected by Irma in Florida. We need the support of the ag community to make sure we have enough funds to help the victims of these hurricanes.”
Hartman closed his piece with this question: “The challenge will be, as the flood waters recede, will we still be able to love at these same record levels?”
Certainly, this will be the challenge, as in all likelihood, it won’t be long before the national news turns its focus back to all the man-made drama that tears us apart. We shouldn’t need regular reminders of what truly matters, but the fact is, we do.