Farm Rescue shifts to help farmers sickened by coronavirus

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Dan Erdmann/Farm Rescue

In this photo provided by Farm Rescue, volunteers plant crops on Paul Ivesdal's farm June 3, 2020 in Edmore, N.D. The wet spring offered only a tiny window for planting, so when Ivesdal fell ill to a coronavirus infection he knew the timing couldn't be worse. Thanks to Farm Rescue, Ivesdal got his crop in even as he was rushed to a hospital and spend eight days on a ventilator. The nonprofit organization's help meant that although Ivesdal spent a summer in rehabilitation to recover his walking ability and even now tires more easily, he'll be able to keep farming. (Dan Erdmann/Farm Rescue via AP)

The wet spring offered only a tiny window for planting, so when North Dakota farmer Paul Ivesdal fell ill with the coronavirus he knew the timing couldn't be worse.

The 63-year-old man knew if he didn't recover quickly and plant his crop of wheat, barley, canola and flax, it could mean an end to his decades of farming 2,300 acres (930 hectares) just south of the Canadian border. But his condition deteriorated and, due to the bad weather, even his neighbors had no time to help.

“We didn’t get some crop in," Ivesdal said. “It just got too late and started raining again."

That's when Farm Rescue stepped in. When Ivesdal was rushed to a hospital where he spent eight days on a ventilator, volunteers from the nonprofit planted his crops and made sure his farm would endure.

Ivesdal spent the summer in rehabilitation, regaining the strength and ability to walk, and he said he tires more easily than before, but that he plans to continue working the land.

“If we wouldn’t have got what we did, I don’t know if I would have kept on farming,” he said. “I’d like to farm for a couple more years but if it wouldn’t have been for them we might have just decided to quit.”

The founder of Farm Rescue, Bill Gross, is a North Dakota native who grew up on a farm, but he did not follow in his parents footsteps. Gross went to college, became a pilot and has flown Boeing 747s for United Parcel Service for 27 years.

But in 2005, he launched Farm Rescue, inspired by the 1980s farm crisis that forced his parents to sell land and most of their cattle. He traveled to farm shows where he set up a card table and asked for donations. With help from a John Deere dealership, he bought a tractor and that first year provided assistance for 10 farming families.