East Bernard farmers pitch in after losing one of their own

EAST BERNARD, Texas (KTRK) -- Farmers are held hostage by weather. Crops are controlled by drought spells, heat and cold - and on the Gulf Coast - by tropical storms.

This week may bring one of those, and that's why in East Bernard, just over an hour's drive from Houston, there's a race to beat the rain expected Friday.

"You can't harvest if there's heavy dew," explained Shea Menard. "The combines can't function if there's moisture on the rice and cotton."

Earlier this month, Menard lost her father, David Stelzel, a longtime farmer in East Bernard whose family ties to the land here go back at least four generations and more than a century.

"You just have to keep going," Menard said, looking out on the acres of rice and cotton left to be harvested.

At the same time, three larger industrial tractors and three combines operated by her uncles and family friends plowed their way through the fields, gathering up the crops. It's a tradition for others to step in if a farmer falls ill or passes away. Stelzel died in a farming accident while he was riding his ATV to check on his rice fields.

Phillip Crane was behind the wheel of a tractor today. He works with his father, who's a farm consultant to the Stelzels. Losing a crop to weather, he said, means the difference between not having any income and having money to use for the next crop.

"A lot of people don't realize where their food comes from, and all the work that goes into it," Crane said.

From the day she lost her father and her mother lost her husband, she said the family has seen an outpouring of support. Meals were provided after the funeral, and now at harvest time, with a storm bearing down, they're making sure the Stelzels' crops are brought in, even before their own.

"He'd be telling them, 'What are you doing?'," said Larry Stelzel of his late brother. "But he would have done the same for them."

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