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2012 drought will continue on into 2013

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hay purchased from other states is what is keeping many area cattle herds fed this winter. Local hay crops destroyed by the summer drought have put many farmers in a bind, and praying for rain and better crops in 2013. [Order this photo]
In many people's minds, the record drought of 2012 is over, but cattle farmers know nothing could be further from the truth.

"It is still so dry around here that the ground has not recovered," Brad Runsick, Fulton County Extension Agent told The News.

That appears to be the situation across the state.

"Soil moisture is nowhere near where it needs to be," said Lance Kirkpatrick, a member of Logan County's Extension staff. "This fall, we're worse off than this summer. If you go down 4-5 inches, the soil is dry."

Kirkpatrick estimates, after two years of little rain, his county needs 34 inches of rain between now and May of 2013 to make up for moisture deficit.

Here in Fulton County, Runsick said farmers haven't given up. He is getting calls from land owners who are having soil samples tested.

"They are also asking for information on re-establishing their fields by spring. Some fields have been badly damaged and they have a lot of bare ground to replant."

Runsick added, with so many farmers buying hay from other states, the extension service is still busy with its hay testing service.

"We are seeing a wide range of hay quality that is being brought in," Runsick said. "It ranges from practically worthless filler to high quality (hay) that would be a good substitute for grain feed,"

The Cooperative Extension Office charges $18 for a routine hay test that covers moisture content, percentage of crude protein, fiber content and total digestive nutrients.

While large hay trucks passing through Salem are still a common sight, Runsick is not getting many calls from ranchers looking for hay to buy. He believes many have sold their herds because they didn't produce enough hay on their own, and the cost to buy hay is so expensive.

Another reason for fewer people looking for hay may be that they bought enough hay earlier to get them through the winter, or have found a good supplier that can meet their needs.

According to Runsick, most hay is in the $50 to $60 a bale range, plus transportation costs.

A website established by the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association to allow suppliers to list hay for sale shows costs are in the $40 to $60 range, plus transportation costs of $2.25 to $4.00 a mile. Hay growers from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas have posted sale offers on the website.

Runsick said he had not heard of any reports of hay theft in our area, and extension agents in other parts of the state agree hay theft does not appear to be a big problem in Arkansas.

Kirkpatrick said most thieves realize stealing hay is not a very good investment. "It's easier to load up 10 cows in a trailer and get $10,000. It's harder loading up 10 bales and getting maybe $1,000."

Robert Seay, an extension staff member in Benton County, one of the counties hardest hit by drought, is probably only half joking when he said, "For thievery to occur, there has to be something available to steal, or worth stealing."

There have been reports of hay theft -- thieves targeting hay left in the field in Missouri -- and problems with farmers there buying hay contaminated with fire ants.

Runsick said he has not heard of any problems with fire ants arriving with purchased hay. Because most states in the southeast are under a hay quarantine, no hay should be leaving the quarantine area without an inspection and certificate allowing it to be exported. Runsick believes that system is working pretty well.

The big question remains -- when is Mother Nature going to deliver enough moisture to give farmers hope that decent hay crops will return this spring?

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