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Emergency hay arrives in W.Va.

August 17, 1999

Emergency hayBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The tractor-trailer that rolled into a Ranson, W.Va., feed store Tuesday morning brought Nancy Lutz some much-needed relief from the drought that has ravaged her 168-acre farm outside Charles Town.

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Lutz is the first, and so far only, Eastern Panhandle farmer to receive truckloads of emergency hay through West Virginia's Operation: Hay Ride.

With her pastures reduced to dirt with only a few patches of grass fighting the thistle for space, Lutz received 26 tons of hay to feed her 112 goats, sheep and cows for the next three months.

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"This is a desperate situation that called for desperate measures," Lutz said.

The West Virginia Legislature Tuesday night approved a plan that will allow Gov. Cecil Underwood to use $11 million from his contingency fund for drought relief, W.Va. Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said.

Underwood declared the state a disaster area Aug. 11 and told the Legislature he plans to use the money to draw federal matching funds as well as buy and transport grain, hay and water to farmers, Unger said.

"This is a significant step to start bringing relief to our farmers," Unger said.

Tuesday's emergency hay delivery in Ranson is the first of what likely will be many such deliveries for farmers across West Virginia, state Office of Emergency Services Director John Pack said.

The hay is earmarked for farmers who have told the USDA they don't have enough hay to get through the next three months.

West Virginia began sending state highways trucks and National Guard vehicles to North Carolina on Sunday to pick up 7,500 rolled hay bales, Pack said.

A farm just south of Fayetteville, N.C., has donated 3,500 800-pound bales and has offered to sell West Virginia 4,000 additional bales at $10 each, $20 below cost, Pack said.

The state also has received offers of hay donations from New York, Florida and Illinois and is working out a plan with the CSX rail company to bring the hay to West Virginia, Pack said.

One or two truckloads of hay is scheduled to be delivered in Berkeley County on Friday, and return trips are planned for the Eastern Panhandle, Pack said.

"We're just starting to get the pipeline flowing," Pack said.

Three other farmers in Jefferson County have requested emergency hay but no delivery date has been set, Ranson USDA Service Center Agent Mike Sienkiewicz said.

Berkeley County Extension Agent Mary Beth Bennett was unsure how many Berkeley County farmers have requested hay and said officials Tuesday were trying to clarify the USDA formula used to determine how much hay a farmer may receive from the government.

The formula factors in the numbers and types of livestock on a farm combined with the farmer's available hay, USDA Berkeley County Executive Director Bill Bennett said last week.

Eight Berkeley County farmers had applied for hay as of Aug. 12 and farmers have until Friday to sign up for the first phase of emergency hay supplies, Bennett said.

Farmers also can apply for low-interest loans and more programs will be added as the drought continues and more federal aid becomes available, Bennett said.

While the emergency hay supplies should last until November, Lutz is worried about how she will feed her herd in the winter months when the hay runs out.

"I've already spent $1,200 on hay that I would have normally bought for the winter. I'm not sure what will happen next," Lutz said.

Berkeley County received 19.67 inches of precipitation between Jan. 1 and July 30, compared to a normal for the period of 22.6 inches, according to a county weather observer. The number is skewed by a wet January and a July that brought several heavy but small storms to Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, where data is gathered, he said. Over a 12-month period ending June 30, both Berkeley and Jefferson counties are about 13 inches below normal.

The USDA service centers can be reached at 304-263-7559 in Martinsburg and 304-725-3471 in Ranson.

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