Drought brings desperate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 15, 2000

need for cattle farmers


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June 14, 2000 10 PM

A summer drought has devstated local cattle farmers, but some temporary, though small relief may be coming this way.

The old adage "Make hay while the sun shines" holds true only if there is hay to be made. For farmers in drought stricken southeastern Alabama, there’s no hay to be made.

What is being done to assist cattle farmers due to the severe shortage of hay was

the reason for Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Charles Bishop’s tour of three Wiregrass areas yesterday – Troy, Headland and Andalusia.

Earlier this week, Bishop outlined a plan to generate $2.5 million in state, federal and farm association funds to buy hay to distribute free to those who qualify according to criteria established by the Department of Agriculture and Industries.

To qualify, a farmer must derive 50 percent or more of his or her income from farming, must be out of hay and must have owned his animals for at least a year.

Bishop told a packed auditorium at South Alabama Electric Co-op, that his department is acting quickly.

"Some farmers are faced with the prospect of selling off their entire herds and that is something that could put them out of business," Bishop said. "The farmers need our help now and they are going to get it."

Bishop said he has put together a task force at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to identify those who need hay and those who have hay to sell or donate.

He has started the ball rolling with $250,000 out of his department’s budget and is asking the assistance of other agencies in building an assistance program that will total $2.5 million. That is the estimated amount needed to temporarily "bale out" the drought-stricken Alabama cattle farmers.

Six truck loads of hay will be arriving in Alabama from Philadelphia, Miss. Friday. Each truck will carry from 21 to 24 1,000-pound bales. The maximum amount of hay allowed is 25 pounds per cow per day.

The hay will be distributed to a specified location for pickup by the farmers who will receive the hay through a system based on immediate need.

Pike County cattlemen are asked to sign up for the assistance with the Pike County Extension System office in Troy. Mail-outs detailing the requirements for eligibility will be mailed to 399 Pike County cattlemen Monday but applications can be filed with the Extension System immediately as many farmers are out of hay and some are out of water.

Kenneth Harden said two weeks ago he was down to one bale of hay for his herd of about 100. Fortunately, he was able to buy 29 bales from a friend. That will carry him for about two more weeks at a bale a day then he’s back to the critical stage.

If he doesn’t get hay for his cattle, he, like so many others, will be faced with selling his herd.

"In a crisis situation, cattle prices will bottom out and, if you want to buy back later, the price will shoot up and you can’t afford to get back in," he said.

Harden said the hay made available through the Department of Agriculture will hold cattle farmers over for a while and hopefully until the rain comes.

"If it rained today, and I mean a good, long soaking rain, it would be 30 days before we could put cattle in the pasture to graze again," he said. "Right now, my cows are eating the same amount of hay they would be eating in the dead of winter."

Cattle farmers will be faced with another critical shortage in the dead of winter if the drought doesn’t break soon.

About 25 percent of their winter hay foliage comes from peanut vines and the drought is playing havoc with the peanut crop, too.

All in all, although the sun is shining brightly, it’s a dark time for cattle farmers, especially when there are no dark clouds overhead.

Harden said Pike County cattle farmers are very thankful for the assistance promised by Bishop and they are hopeful it will be their saving grace until the day the rains come.

"We’ve got to help God out and that’s what we intend to do," Bishop said. "Farmers are the anchor of this country. They started it. We’re just asking them to hang tight. We’re going to do what we can to help them get through this so they can live better lives and their livelihoods can be more productive. When our farmers stop producing, we’ll stop eating."