By TIM ALEXANDER
DECATUR, Ill. — Dozens of members of the Fellowship of Christian Farmers (FCFI), International came to the 2021 Farm Progress Show. Inside their tent on First Progress Street, FCFI executive director Dennis Schlagel was busy recruiting farmers, ranchers, skilled tradespersons and heavy machinery owners-operators for an FCFI-led relief effort for farms, ranches and rural communities affected by Hurricane Ida.
“When Ida came ashore in Louisiana it was close to a Category 4 (hurricane), so there is going to be a lot of work to do on farms. Trees are down and fences will need to be replaced, but the main problem now is power. It’s out across south Louisiana,” Schlagel said on August 31, opening day for the Farm Progress Show.
Since the summer of 2020 the Lexington, Illinois-based FCFI has dispatched work crews to Lake Charles and Calcasieu Parish, an area of Louisiana that experienced as many as six hurricanes, as part of a long-term recovery commitment to the people of the area. The effort is expected to continue indefinitely, though some resources may need to be shifted to other areas affected by Ida.
“We are in touch with our people down there and if anyone wants to become involved with our disaster relief program, there will be a lot of work to do in south Louisiana this winter,” Schlagel said, adding that labor is a commodity FCFI cannot acquire enough of.
“It costs about $7,000 per mile to replace a fence, and labor accounts for about 35 percent of that. When we rebuild a fence, it’s a tremendous savings to a farmer to have us build the fence. If you can line up fence and posts, you can help reduce those labor costs-- and there will be a lot of it to do,” he said.
Volunteers of all ages will be needed to mount an effective relief effort for Ida victims, though potential laborers should be physically able to assist in installing fencing, removing trees and debris, and other laborious tasks. “Possessing basic fence tools or a chainsaw is a bonus, but we’ve got disaster coordinators who can give you specific information for the exact location you will be (assigned) and what tools you might need,” said Schlagel.
FCFI recruits volunteers through farm show exhibits, social media and word of mouth between farm families. Recently, various FFA chapters have contacted Schlagel to volunteer for relief projects in Illinois, Louisiana and elsewhere.
“In the last paragraph of the FFA creed it reads ‘I believe that rural America can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life, and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.’ Well, if you’ve grown up on a farm or been in FFA, helping your neighbor is a part of agriculture,” Schlagel said. “We’re going to be facilitating FFA members who have maybe never been on a trip to be part of one of our disaster projects.”
Hurricane Ida is being called the second-strongest hurricane to ever strike Louisiana (behind Hurricane Katrina) and is tied for the strongest landfall in the state by maximum wind speed. The economic damages from Hurricane Ida could wind up becoming one of the costliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. since 2000, according to AccuWeather. The company revised their storm damage estimate to around $95 billion, which is up from the agency’s initial forecast of between $70 billion and $80 billion. The damages are expected to have a “notable negative impact” on the U.S. economy during the third and fourth quarter, AccuWeather stated.
Go to www.fcfi.org to learn more about FCFI and inquire about assisting a relief project.