Legal hitch hinders farmers' efforts to donate hay to drought-ridden Fla.

July 23, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Eastern Shore farmers would like to donate thousands of bales of hay to feed starving livestock in the drought-ridden Florida Panhandle, but there's a legal hitch.

The Maryland hayfields are registered in a federal conservation reserve program that pays farmers to take land out of production. They are required to plant a cover crop such as clover and grass that makes great hay, but they can't harvest the fields.

Daniel Shortall, a vice president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the hay-lift initiative began Friday when his Centreville neighbor, Charles Jackson, "came to me and said, 'We have got to do something. It's a crime to let this hay rot in our fields.' "

Shortall estimates that there are about 225,000 bales of hay that could be shipped to Florida.

But before the first truck can head south, farmers need an OK from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, drafted a letter yesterday pleading with Glickman to allow the plan to proceed. It was to be signed by members of the Maryland congressional delegation and is expected to be sent today.

"We feel this is a worthwhile effort and we want the secretary to expedite the request," said Cathy Bassett, a spokeswoman for Gilchrest.

James M. Voss, head of the Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, which administers USDA policy in the state, said the Maryland agriculture emergency board has "looked favorably" on the request and has referred it to the agency's Washington headquarters.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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