FORT RANSOM, North Dakota — When farm machinery flying both an American flag and a distinct white flag completes a pass across a field in rural North Dakota, it usually means one thing: Farm Rescue has come to help another farm family in need.

The North Dakota organization that helps farm families in need made its way to Fort Ransom, North Dakota, on Monday, Oct. 4, to help the Birklid family with their soybean harvest. But that particular rescue was special for the non-profit: the Birklids are the 800th farm family Farm Rescue has assisted.

The Birklids were the 800th farm family Farm Rescue has helped.  Photo taken Oct. 4, 2021, near Fort Ransom, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek
The Birklids were the 800th farm family Farm Rescue has helped. Photo taken Oct. 4, 2021, near Fort Ransom, North Dakota. Emily Beal / Agweek
“I was really surprised we were the 800th. I had no idea,” Katie Birklid said. “It’s amazing that they have helped 800 families.”

Katie’s husband, Gene, underwent his second brain surgery earlier this season. The surgery was to help relieve pressure that a cyst was putting on his brain. Gene had the same surgery just in February, on a different cyst that was impacting the other side of his brain.

His first surgery was scheduled during winter, a much quieter time on the farm. The timing of that surgery allowed him to recover in time for planting season. However, going under the knife just five short weeks ago meant this time was different. He and his family knew that they would need help during this harvest season, an already stressful time on the farm.

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“My husband had his second brain surgery this year and he’s still recovering so we needed the help,” Katie Birklid said. “It’s been a huge relief, I was really nervous about how we were going to handle the harvest this year. Farm Rescue coming in was a huge blessing.”

Gene Birklid agreed with his wife, stating she has had to take on responsibilities that she normally does not have to worry about or do.

“We weren’t sure how we were going to get it all done with me being out of commission,” Gene Birklid said.

The Birklids run a diversified crop operation of corn, soybeans and wheat. They also dabble in other crops such as yellow peas and pinto beans. Despite the dry conditions, the Birklids’ acres have been experiencing this season, their wheat crop turned out surprisingly well.

“I’m surprised that the crops are turning out better than I thought. I had one of the best wheat yields I have ever had, I think,” Gene Birklid said.

Bob Miller has been a Farm Rescue volunteer for four years. He has enjoyed getting to know all the families that have been helped and being able to work within the agriculture industry.  Photo taken Oct. 4, 2021, near Fort Ransom, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek
Bob Miller has been a Farm Rescue volunteer for four years. He has enjoyed getting to know all the families that have been helped and being able to work within the agriculture industry. Photo taken Oct. 4, 2021, near Fort Ransom, North Dakota. Emily Beal / Agweek
There were an array of volunteers at the Birklid’s farm and some family members that came out to show their support and help where they could.

“It’s pretty obvious that the volunteers love what they do and love to help,” Katie Birklid said.

Farm Rescue is a non-profit organization that was created over 15 years ago. Farm Rescue helps farm families get important tasks done on the farm, such as planting their crop or harvesting it when a key family member is ill or undergoing other hardships.

“A lot of lives have been touched since 2006. It’s a big milestone for us, something that we are very proud of. It’s an age-old concept of neighbors helping neighbors. We just like to say our neighbors come from a little further down the road,” said Dan Erdmann, Farm Rescue’s program manager. “They’re an incredible family that we’re honored to be here helping. With Gene and Katie, it is a true family operation.”

Erdmann attributes hitting the milestone to an abundance of people who have helped along the way, such as volunteers, sponsors, donors and many others. Before being Farm Rescue's 800th assist, Gene Birklid had been on the other side of the Farm Rescue equation.

“Farm Rescue is a good organization to donate to," he said. "I have donated to it in the past.”