Drought conditions are so severe, Gov. Mike Easley recently asked for federal disaster aid for farmers.
As of Wednesday, it appeared 90 percent of the state's counties met the criteria for federal help. State farm reports indicated significant losses of corn, soybeans and hay.
North Carolina cattle farmers said the drought could be enough to put some of them out of business. This year's hay crop was devastated. Farmers could quickly run out of feed for their herds.
After 50 years of farming cattle, Chester Smith said he has had some trying times. There are more than 100 head of cattle on his Wayne County farm and as many hungry mouths to feed.
“Been mighty bad this year,” he said.
The drought has devastated hay crops across the state. Farmers were running low on supplies that would have carried them through the winter in better years.
Officials at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said 71 of 100 counties reported significant need of hay.
“We are just seeing stuff burn in the field basically now,” said Brian Long, with NCDA. “We have an estimated need of as much as 800,000 bales of hay.”
That is 80 times worse than in the drought of 2002.
To cut back on animals they will have to feed, Smith might have to take his cows to market earlier and get a lower price. He could feed his cattle grain, but that is three times the cost of hay. He projects losses at 30 percent.
“It is a hard deal, I tell you. Some of the boys are going to have to sell out and quit,” he said.
State agricultural leaders said they hope devastated cattle farmers can be helped by devastated crop farmers – bailing dried stalks in their fields to be used as feed for cattle.
“Those who have something to offer, hook them up with those that have a need,” Long said.
Smith said he worries the crop feed will not have enough protein to raise a good herd. State workers said they are working on that problem, and Smith hopes they are right.
The need for hay in Wayne County alone was at 12,000 tons recently. That is four times the amount of hay needed in the whole state during the 2002 drought.
A federal disaster declaration would give farmers the opportunity to apply for low-interest emergency relief loans.