From the Tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
This has not been the best of years for North Carolina agriculture and farmers. First, an Easter weekend freeze severely damaged the apple and peach crops, and now nearly three-fourths of the state is experiencing severe or extreme drought, which is wreaking havoc with most other commodities.
Farmers almost always find themselves at the mercy of Mother Nature. Irrigation can help, but with extended dry periods like we’ve had this summer, those resources often become limited or dry up altogether. Many communities across the state have imposed water restrictions because of the severity of the situation.
Nearly every commodity and every region of the state is suffering under these drought conditions. As of mid-August, 74 percent of the state’s soil moisture levels rated short or very short. Simply put, we need rain; and even then it may be too late for a number of crops.
I am particularly worried about livestock and dairy producers this fall and winter. I’ve talked to many growers and quite a few have already started feeding animals hay and other supplemental feeds because pastures and fields have dried up or been extremely short due to the lack of rain. Unfortunately, that’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul, and I know this will catch up to growers this winter or maybe even earlier.
I understand from my counterparts in other Southeastern states that hay supplies are limited in the entire region, meaning it will be difficult and expensive, perhaps even cost-prohibitive, to find supplemental feed.
All this is adding up to a crisis for North Carolina farmers and agriculture.
We are actively working on ways to help farmers, from looking at salvaging unmarketable crops for alternative feed sources, to finding ways to match those who need feed with those who may have alternative feeds available. I have put together a task force of industry leaders, department staff, university officials and other resources to try to accurately assess the situation and see exactly what the need is, what resources exist and what we can do to help growers through this difficult situation.
As we get more details together we will be working with cooperative extension, commodity associations, other farm groups and the media to keep growers informed about efforts and resources available. I would encourage growers to check the department’s Web site at www.ncagr.com for the latest information. We have a Hay Alert page where growers with hay or feed or those looking for feed can post information. We want to help match those with feed with those without.
Drought-related releases can also be found on the Web site under the newsroom link. Please continue to check back often as we will update these sites with the latest recommendations and information.
I remind farmers again to continue to exercise caution with feeds to make sure they do not contain excessively high levels of nitrates, which is another consequence of extremely dry conditions. Our Food and Drug Protection Division lab will provide free nitrate testing of forages. Contact the division at (919) 733-7366 or go to www.ncagr.com/fooddrug/ for more information.