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Relief for ranchers

Ronny Utke, right, a trucking contractor who regularly works with MFA, supervises the unloading of range cubes at the dropoff point. Ronny and his wife, Tammy, along with their son and daughter-in-law, Cordell and Josie Utke, hauled the two truckloads of feed from MFA’s Aurora mill to Texas on March 16.

MFA delivers feed to Texas to help livestock producers affected by wildfires

The devastating Smokehouse Creek Fire that swept through the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle in late February and early March destroyed hundreds of homes and structures, killed two people and at least 7,500 cattle, and scorched more than 1 million acres.

The full extent of the damage is still unknown, said Monty Dozier, Texas A&M AgriLife’s director for disaster assessment and recovery, as farmers and ranchers work to evaluate their losses in animals, pasture, hay and farm infrastructure.

“This was the largest wildfire in Texas history,” Dozier said. “The Panhandle is a big cow/calf area, and the fire hit during spring calving season. That means many of the ranchers lost not only cows but also their newborn or unborn calves. In some counties, more than 85% of the grazing acres were burned. Thousands of miles of fencing were destroyed, and that’s not easy to replace. We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”

To help start that recovery process, support has been arriving in the Lone Star State by the truckloads in the form of hay, feed and fencing materials in addition to supplies for families who lost their homes. MFA Incorporated joined those efforts by sending two trailerloads of range cubes from its Aurora Feed Mill.

“Farmers and ranchers everywhere care deeply about their livestock, and watching these animals suffer, even the ones that weren’t injured or killed in the fire, had to be gut-wrenching for those ranchers,” said John Akridge, MFA Incorporated senior director of livestock operations. “In many cases, the cattle quite literally didn’t have a bite to eat available to them, and the ranchers could do nothing about it. Sending range cubes down there to provide relief to both the cattle and the ranch families was the most immediate help MFA could offer.”

The Utke family, trucking contractors who work regularly with MFA, transported the 48-ton feed donation to the dropoff destination in Canadian, Texas, about 450 miles from Aurora. Husband-and-wife team Ronny and Tammy Utke and their son and daughter-in-law, Cordell and Josie Utke, delivered the feed on Saturday, March 16, the day officials announced the wildfire was finally contained after a three-week battle.

“In agriculture, we need to support each other when something like this happens, no matter whether you’re in Texas or Missouri,” Tammy said. “So many people in that area had lost everything, and we were glad to be able to do something to help.”

The MFA range cubes were taken to the Hemphill County Exhibition Center and a local feed store in Canadian, Texas, two of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Disaster Assessment and Recovery (DAR) animal supply points set up to organize and distribute donations. The DAR network was established in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 to help Texas communities prepare for disasters and provide expert support in recovery efforts, Dozier explained.

As of early April, he said the DAR unit has already received more than $4 million in support from 32 states. Donations include some 16,000 round hay bales and 56,000 bags of cubes, with nearly three-fourths of those supplies already provided to farmers and ranchers in need.

“We’re humbled by the outpouring of support and giving we’ve seen from individuals and companies like MFA and appreciate their willingness to come this far to help our ranchers and communities,” Dozier said. “We’re getting a lot of supplies in, and we’re getting a lot out. Every bag of cubes and every bale of hay is like a ray of hope.”

The Extension Service’s supply points will be open until early June, Dozier said, and the DAR team continues to assess needs as residents and ranchers begin to recover and rebuild. What producers are requesting most right now, he added, are protein tubs, mineral blocks and fencing supplies. Monetary donations are also welcome through the STAR (State of Texas Agriculture Relief) Fund and Texas Farm Bureau’s Texas Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund, both of which help farmers and ranchers recover from the disaster.

For more information on current relief efforts, agriculture needs and links to donation sites, visit online at agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/2024-panhandle-wildfires/.

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FFA members put ‘Living to Serve’ motto in action for wildfire victims

MFA wasn’t the only source of support for Texas ranchers that came from Missouri in the aftermath of the Smokehouse Creek wildfires. A group of young men from the northwestern area of the state took the initiative to raise funds, gather needed supplies and drive the donations to the Panhandle.
The idea originated with Tucker Narr, a senior member of the Chillicothe FFA Chapter, who told his parents, Travis and Crystal Narr of Wheeling, that he wanted to do something to assist with the wildfire relief efforts. They discussed his idea and helped him spearhead a plan.

Tucker teamed up with his younger brother, Cooper, along with fellow FFA members and alumni Kolby and Kase Singer from Hale, Ross Kee from Carrollton and Trent Grossman from Tina. They reached out to local businesses and received an outpouring of support from at least five counties, with donations ranging from money and hay to livestock feed and bottled water.

“Coming from an agricultural area and farm families with cattle of our own, it was devastating to see the loss of livestock and to hear about the lack of resources available,” Tucker said. “It was hard to fathom finding yourself in that situation. Being raised in families that try to help others when they can, it prompted the idea to try to do something.”

The group set out for Canadian, Texas, on March 8 with two truckloads of hay and supplies and were welcomed graciously by local residents. The Missourians were invited to eat dinner with firefighters that evening, provided hotel rooms for the night and had breakfast with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent before heading home. They were also invited to return to Canadian for an upcoming cattleman’s conference.

“We wanted to help as many people as we possibly could, and we still feel like there’s so more that we can do,” Tucker said. “We’re already planning another trip to take stuff down there because they’re going to need help for years to come.”

FFAhayThis group of young men from northwest Missouri gathered feed, hay, farm supply and monetary donations and drove them to Canadian, Texas, to help in wildfire relief. Pictured just before they left on March 8 are, from right, Tucker Narr, Cooper Narr, Kolby Singer, Kase Singer, Ross Kee and Trent Grossman.

 

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