Drought hits hay hard

Published 7:13 pm Monday, August 11, 2008

The horse community may not be feeling the pinch yet, however.

&dquo;It&squo;s not as bad as it was last year,&dquo; horse farmer Suzanne Russell said.

Last year, people were selling horses and cattle because they couldn&squo;t afford to feed them. The hay shortage was much worse than this year, Russell said. Russell and a lot of other horse farmers are bringing hay in from other parts of the country.

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But Gerald Harbinson of North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation said that there has been an impact on hay farmers in the region.

&dquo;In some cases, (the hay) hasn&squo;t died,&dquo; he said. &dquo;It goes dormant.&dquo;

The federal government has announced that it will help farmers who are feeling the heat, Harbison said.

According to Harbinson, 21 farms have applied for the Drought Response Program, totaling up to around 700 acres.

Evaluations of farms applying for the program began two weeks ago, he said.

The big problem, Harbinson said, is that horse farmers have already begun feeding their horses hay. The pastures have either died or have been overgrazed, he said.

&dquo;People are already starting to feed hay, which they wouldn&squo;t do in a typical year,&dquo; Harbison said.

Most people begin feeding their horses and cattle hay in the fall, Barber said.

Barber said he learned his lesson about selling hay last year.

Last year, Barber sold his hay to everyone. When the dust settled, he didn&squo;t have enough hay to sell to his consistent customer base.

&dquo;I&squo;ve tried to hold onto hay this year,&dquo; he said.

And yet, there just hasn&squo;t been as much hay to hold onto in recent years, he said.

&dquo;With the drought, I&squo;m tending more land and baling less hay,&dquo; he said.

It didn&squo;t start out looking like it was going to be a bad year, however. The first three or four months of the year, there was normal rainfall. But May and especially June were brutal on the local hay farmers, Barber said. The month of June was hotter than usual and was extremely dry, he said.

In situations like this, you see overgrown fields disappearing.

&dquo;Farmers are cutting about any field they see,&dquo; Barber said.

Harbinson said the one piece of advice he has been giving out is simple.

&dquo;If anything, I&squo;m trying to encourage people not to overgraze their pasture,&dquo; he said. &dquo;Over the next year or two, there&squo;ll be more emphasis on pasture management.&dquo;