THE CHAPTER on the 2005 crop year is about to close and once again, weather was the biggest influence on yield. Every year, weather represents the big unknown, and no matter how much work and money farmers put into seed, chemicals and production techniques, weather will make or break the crop.

Weather influences on this year's crop have been compounded by the weather on the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are gathering blame for higher diesel prices, higher shipping prices, higher fertilizer prices, and higher chemical prices.

Farmers, though, have learned to accept weather's fickleness and fury. Gulf residents are learning that lesson, too. My sister-in-law Rochelle and her family lived two blocks off the ocean in Long Beach, MS. Now they live in a strip mall and stretch out at night on the floor of a small spa.

Rochelle reports that living in Long Beach now is like living in a Third World country. Only a few stores are open, and their shelves are nearly empty. Essentials such as toilet paper are gone. Grocery stores don't have meat.

The biggest frustration for her, though, is watching the ineptness of government agencies. Her family has filed for help from FEMA, but after several weeks, they still have no answers.

She claims the only groups getting anything done for hurricane victims are those run by charities and churches. Recently, she counted 83 cars waiting in line to pick up essentials at a nondenominational donation center. She is thankful that this center is open because the government programs closed when they couldn't decide how to distribute the items fairly.

One big problem facing people who have a home left is repairing it. Hired help is nearly impossible to find, and most people can't afford it anyway. Fortunately, charities are stepping in to help. Rochelle told of a young man they know who lost the roof on his house and could not afford to hire anyone to fix it. Then one day a crew of volunteers came to his home and put on a new roof. That's how things are getting done.

I was back home in Iowa right after Katrina hit. During the service at our rural church, I listened to a plea for donations and volunteers to help rebuild the devastated area. Today, I can't help but be proud when I think about how the efforts of people like farmers are making a difference in the Gulf area, especially for people like that young man. Farmers understand the power of weather and they know how to construct and fix things. Farmers know how to rebuild.

So when you shut down the combine for the winter, consider helping with another weather-related effort…an effort to rebuild lives.