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Growing Grain for Japan

U.S. farmers raise funds to support victims of Japan’s March 2011 earthquake.

by Heidi StrawnApril 26, 2011

Nebraska farmers raised more than $55,000 to donate to the Japan relief effort
Courtesy Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock
Farmers in Nebraska donated portions of their grain harvest to raise more than $55,000 to help the Japan relief effort.

In rural communities, when a fellow farmer is in need, we do what we can to help. Pitching in to clean up storm damage, lending an extra pair of hands during the harvest, bringing over a meal after a death in the family—it’s all part of being neighborly.

Farmers in Nebraska are extending this sense of neighborliness across the Pacific to aid victims of last month’s earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan. Thanks to a partnership among the Nebraska Corn Growers AssocationAurora Cooperative and Lexington, Neb.’s, KRVN 880 Rural Radio, growers are able to earmark a portion of their corn or grain harvest to support the American Red Cross’ massive Japan relief effort.

The grain-donation program is the brainchild of John Willoughby, a Wood River, Neb.-area farmer active in the NeCGA. NeCGA field services director Mat Habrock says that a fundraising effort for Japan was a natural fit for the organization. As the third-largest consumer of U.S. agricultural exports and Nebraska’s largest global corn buyer, “Japan has always been a good customer.”

Aurora Cooperative, where Willoughby sits on the board of directors, helped bring his idea of aiding Nebraska’s economic neighbor to life. The logistics of the program are simple, says Dawn Caldwell, corporate communications manager for Aurora. When farmers put their corn or grain on the scale, they tell the operator how much of the load they want to designate for the Red Cross—be it five bushels or a semi-truck load. Then, “we just split the ticket on the scale,” she explains. The grain is sold at spot price.

At the end of each week, the co-op sends a check to the Red Cross. This ensures a constant infusion of cash for the Japan relief effort, Caldwell says. Since the program’s April 1 kickoff, Aurora customers have donated $44,000 in corn, grain and cash. Recently, Cooperative Producers, Inc. also joined the fundraising effort, bringing the total raised through NeCGA to more than $55,000.

Habrock and Caldwell both stress that farms of any size are encouraged to contribute to the Japan relief effort, with Caldwell adding that most of the donations logged at Aurora locations have come from small- to medium-sized family farms.

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Nebraska’s corn growers aren’t the only farmers raising funds for their trade partners in Japan. Both Habrock and Caldwell say they’ve spoken to agriculture leaders from other corn states looking to start similar programs. Meat producers are getting involved, as well. In March, the Beef Checkoff Program invested $200,000 in a relief fund administered by the U.S. Meat Export Federation; the National Pork Board also allocated $100,000 from the Pork Checkoff to this fund. The USMEF’s fund will be used to help alleviate food shortages in Japan.

While Caldwell says the destruction in Japan is immense, with many projecting it to be “the single largest disaster in world history from an economic standpoint,” she says she’s awed by the response she’s seen from the U.S. farming community.

“Their response has been wonderful. … Their heart goes out when someone else is in need of help.”

To find out if there’s a corn- or grain-donation program in your area, contact your local farmers’ co-op or growers association. To make a cash donation to the American Red Cross, visit their secure online-donation site.

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