From the Tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
I am hopeful that 2008 will be kinder weather-wise to farmers than 2007 was, particularly with regards to rain and getting out of this drought pattern.
As I am writing this in mid-January, a steady rain is falling and parts of the state have received snow. At this point, I’m grateful for moisture in whatever form it arrives.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been heavily involved in emergency hay relief efforts and I wanted to update livestock producers and equine owners on those efforts and what they can do if they need hay.
Because of the extreme shortage of hay in North Carolina, the Council of State approved a revolving line of credit of up to $3.5 million to bring hay into North Carolina to ensure producers and owners had access to feed in an emergency. The goals are to keep the cost of hay as low as possible, to avoid an animal welfare crisis and help farmers keep their herds rather than having to sell them in a fire sale.
The first truckloads arrived in the state in late December and additional loads have followed every week since. I can tell you demand has been extremely high. In most cases the hay has barely been unloaded before it was being purchased and transported to farms.
Six distribution sites have been set up across the state. They were selected because of their central location to large numbers of livestock operations and for having storage capabilities. (Sites and contact numbers are listed in the article to the right.)
We are asking producers to contact the site individually to get on a waiting list for hay. At press time, there is a limit of four large bales and 20 small bales a day per farm. That may change depending on supply and demand.
The department continues to operate the Hay Alert Web site and hotline, both excellent resources for farmers and equine owners looking for hay. The Web site, www.ncagr.com/hayalert, is updated as new information is available, and operators are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to take calls at 1-866-506-6222.
Farmers can post ads for hay wanted or hay for sale on the Hay Alert Web site and can search ads for hay for sale. I’d encourage folks who are looking to buy hay to search the database first, because we have found some people do have hay for sale locally and buyers may be to lucky enough to find hay near their farms. This interactive site allows people to search by county or state, as well as Canadian province.
We have been fortunate to have many partners join in efforts to help farmers. Donations by a number of groups have gone into creating the Golden Hay (funded entirely by a $500,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation), Ag Partners and Equine Partners transportation cost-share programs. I am not going to list them all in this column, but I am extremely grateful for their support. We hope others will join this effort because every bit helps, particularly as the cost of hay has risen sharply.
As this drought has drawn on, I have become more and more concerned that this may be the final straw that causes some to sell their land and stop farming altogether.
I sincerely hope that is not the case. North Carolina already leads the country in loss of farms. Our state is changing and folks are starting to realize the downsides to development – overcrowded schools, increased traffic, loss of open spaces and forested land and even the availability of water in drought situations.
Our population now tops 9 million and it is expected to grow to 12 million by 2030. We need a healthy agriculture industry in this state – to feed ourselves and to feed our growing population.
As I mentioned when I started this column, I hope we get a weather break soon. Recently I heard a presentation from a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The forecast doesn’t look too good for the first few months of 2008, but it’s still too soon to know what the spring and summer will bring.
Maybe it’s the farmer in me or maybe it’s the rain today, but in spite of the report, I’m still optimistic about the current topsoil moisture levels. Statewide, 70 percent of topsoil moisture is rated as adequate. That certainly gives us cause for hope and something to build on this year.