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Relief in sight for state's drought-afflicted farmers

A $6 million grant is helping farmers across the state recover from the drought.

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LOUISBURG, N.C. — The rains have come. The lakes are full again. But the drought is still alive and well at many North Carolina farms.

Warren and Sally Coad, who own Freedom Farms in Louisburg, have had to take on second jobs to offset costs that come with keeping their herd of 75 cattle fed.

"Our credit card bills are through the roof," Sally Coad said.

Unlike many livestock farmers who sold their animals as the cost of hay went up to three or four times what most farmers were used to, the Coads vowed to keep their full herd.

"This is our commitment," Warren Coad said. "We're going to stick to it."

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture estimates the drought cost farmers, like the Coads, more than $500 million, and that number keeps increasing.

But relief is in sight.

They are among a large number of farmers who will be applying through the North Carolina Agriculture Drought Recovery Program – made possible by a $6 million grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.

“This grant makes it possible for more than 1,000 farmers and farm operations to restore some of the damage from last summer’s severe drought and to prepare so the next long, hot and dry summer doesn’t do as much damage,” said Billy Ray Hall, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.

The program covers 75 percent of the cost of restoring drought-damaged pastures, renovating and constructing new farm ponds and drilling and re-drilling wells.

"Some of our pastures are so far gone, I'm not real clear on what needs to be done," Sally Coad said.

The program, which began May 1, is being administered statewide through the s 96 Soil and Water Conservation district offices. (Find the office nearest you.) It is open to farmers with an adjusted gross income of less than $250,000, or those who derive 75 percent of their income from farming operations.

Like many farmers, Sally Coads says she hopes her field is eligible for a grant.

"It's much needed, much wanted and much appreciated," she said.