A time-honored tradition of farmers helping neighbors in need played out in the Missouri Bootheel this fall.

After several months of progressively worse back pain, farmer Royce Fortner of Tallapoosa, Mo., saw his doctor. In mid-August, he received the diagnosis: advanced colon cancer.

It was tough news to hear, especially as he and his son, Mark, were making plans to harvest 2,000 acres of crops, including 1,300 acres of cotton.

Word of Royce's condition traveled fast in the small community. Farm equipment dealer Max Clark of Baker Implement, the Case IH dealer in nearby Malden, Mo., figured he could put one of the dealership's demonstrator cotton pickers to work in Royce's fields for a few days.

Other neighbors, including Kevin Carlisle, Mark Robertson, and Daniel and Donnie Presley, made their time and equipment available.

Together with the Fortners' own cotton harvester, up to four six-row cotton harvesters were picking the Fortners' cotton crop at one time.

“We're harvesting up to 200 acres a day,” said Mark Fortner, as he watched yet another basket of cotton being unloaded.

“I can't stress enough what it means to us to have this help. It's amazing, and it's taken a great load off Dad's mind.”

Royce Fortner began farming in Tallapoosa in 1973.

He grew up on the farm, then got an engineering degree and went to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas.

That was a short stint. “He couldn't get the farm's dirt from under his fingernails,” says his wife, Alice.

From that time on, he earned a reputation as a progressive farmer and a good member of the community.

He has embraced the health challenge with a positive attitude, and has volunteered to take part in some experimental treatments.

After the first round of exhausting chemo treatments, Royce rebounded strong enough to spend time in the field, observing.

He had the chance to see and operate the newest harvesting equipment — the on-board module builder — that promises to revolutionize cotton harvesting.

As a farmer with an engineering background, it was an experience he especially appreciated.

“We're real thankful for all the help we're getting,” Royce says.

The “Expect a Miracle” bracelets his family, friends and church members are wearing describe where their hopes lie.

And, with a season blessed by excellent harvest weather, good yields and the outpouring of help from neighbors and friends, they expect nothing less.