Put seven combines together on a quarter section of land and it doesn’t take long for the crop to be harvested. Aug. 8, a group of volunteers had the 160 acres of hard red spring wheat in the bin in short order, with all of the money going to the HALO Air Ambulance.
Allen Kuizenga, co-chair of the HALO board donated the 160 acres of his rented land for growing a crop specifically for the medieval helicopter organization that relies exclusively on donations to keep operating. Kuizenga said they were hoping to receive 20-25 bushels per acre, but no final numbers were provided as of Aug. 12.
“HALO needs money, especially since we changed from the single-engine helicopter. Our costs have soared,” said Kuizenga, adding that HALO has been in negotiations with the current provincial government as well as the previous one in securing funding. In January, they received a one-time grant of $1 million. The cost of operating the twin-engine helicopter is $2.6 million a year. The organization currently needs bridge funding to help cover costs until October.
“The government has a mandate to do more with less, but they are looking at HALO as a model to be reckoned with,” he said. “The community has been very supportive of HALO. There is lots of long-term loyalty. When the oil industry crashed in 2009 and again in 2013, the agriculture industry really stepped up. Alberta is hurting. With our new government, hopefully they can get things back in order.”
Kuizenga said his dad’s involvement with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank sparked the idea to hold a similar fundraiser for HALO and local producers were quick to offer their time and equipment for the cause.
Glen Motz, MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner attended the harvest and was impressed to see the local support.
“The community appreciates the service provided by HALO and this community, the ag community, the rural community understand and appreciate the value of the service. The farmers, dealers, land, costs involved…It’s amazing to see the support and I applaud the community and the efforts put into this. For the farmers helping with this harvest, they could have been in their own fields today, but they are here supporting HALO,” said Motz.
HALO chair Dale Thacker said the local community recognize the need to have a medevac helicopter for the rural areas, and so do southern Alberta provincial politicians.
“This is greatly appreciated. It has been really rewarding to watch. People are starting to understand that if they want rapid response, HALO is needed and people are supporting it,” said Thacker.
“Our MLAs, Grant Hunter, Drew Barnes, and Nate Horner have all really been pushing for us.”
HALO pilot Steve Harmer, who flew one of the two helicopters to the field where the crop was being harvested, recounted being called out to the scene of a fatal motor vehicle collision (MVC) the day before west of Oyen.
“We were first on the scene for helicopters and our paramedics helped with triage. CFB Suffield allowed us to get into their air space and that saved us at least 10 minutes. From the time the call was received, it took us 45 minutes to get to the site about nine miles west of Oyen,” said Harmer, adding that STARS air ambulance from Saskatoon also responded and coordinated efforts were made to treat and transport multiple patients.
“We were able to transport the patients to the best hospitals for them,” said Harmer, commending the work of the first responders. “The EMS team, the first responders are a class operation. Of course, the best day is when we don’t turn a rotor blade.”
Below is a list of the local folks to contributed to the HALO harvest: Varekamp Farms: combine and operator ; Kregel Farms: combine and operator; Dale Thacker Specialty Crops: two combines, a grain cart and operators; Western Tractor: combine and it was operated by Don Nelson from Western Tractor.; Lyndon and Joyce Nelson: combine and operator; Vyefield Cattle Company (Kielstra Family): Super Bee to haul grain; Peter Banman helped with setup for the day; Nick Sereda: mechanic in case of equipment failures ; Nick from Peters Restaurant in Bow Island provided an excellent beef on a bun; Kuizenga Farms: combine and operator, a truck along with a tractor and ripper in case of fire. Freight is donated by Bob and Dave from Dykstra Trucking.