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Cattle Farmers Facing 'Hay Emergency'

As much as 30 percent of the state's cattle industry could go under this winter if efforts aren't stepped up to ease a feed shortage, agriculture officials said Tuesday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Using soybean hay and dried-up cornstalks could help ease a feed deficit for livestock farmers caused by dry temperatures and a lack of rain, North Carolina's commissioner of agriculture said Tuesday.

Without the effort, it could mean as much as 30 percent of the state's $250 million cattle industry going under, Commissioner Steve Troxler said.

"This is an emergency," Troxler said. "With the lack of hay in North Carolina, we've got to act very quickly to help save as many cattle operations in North Carolina as we possibly can."

Reports from farmers across the state indicate that as many as 800,000 round bales of hay will be needed through the winter to feed an estimated 860,000 livestock.

A drought in portions of the state in 2002 caused similar problems, but the magnitude of the problem this year is much greater, Troxler said, because it affects the entire state.

"We're talking a demand that's 80 times greater," Troxler said. "It's a pretty daunting task to try to ship in that much hay," so we've got to be creative in helping farmers cope."

The lack of feed has some farmers already selling part of their livestock herd early, including Ronnie Hammond, who said his hay supply to feed his 100 cattle is down 20 percent of what it should be.
That has forced him to take his animals to market earlier and settle for a 10 percent loss of profits.

How the hay shortage could affect consumers isn't clear. Troxler said it was too soon to tell.

But North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden said it would not likely have an impact on larger municipalities in the state. Those that would be affected would likely be smaller rural areas.

Troxler hopes drought-stricken corn and soybean farmers in the eastern part of the state will be able to help hurting cattle farmers by bailing corn stubble and soybeans for hay.

In return, the hay gives growers a marketable option for their damaged crops while providing livestock farmers with additional feed options, Troxler said.

But there are some problems with the idea. For example, cornstalks don't have the nutritional value that hay has, which would mean supplementing the feed with protein.

Another issue is that farmers who have the dried up crops do not necessarily have the equipment to bale them.

Those who can help, however, can use the agriculture department's Hay Alert service by calling 866-506-6222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or the Hay Alert Web site, which allows farmers to place free listings seeking or selling hay.

Last Week, Gov. Mike Easley asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare 85 counties disaster areas because of drought-related crop losses.
The state Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Farm Service Agency are working on a statewide survey to determine which counties to include in the federal disaster request.

If the request is approved, low-interest emergency disaster loans will be available to farmers who cannot get credit elsewhere.

“Early indications are that more than 90 counties may meet the criteria for federal disaster assistance,” Easley said. “Our farmers need our help, and since we cannot make it rain, we will do everything we can to provide them some financial assistance.”