Legal hitch hinders farmers' efforts to donate hay to Fla. USDA chief must OK plan to farm fields

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 when there are farmers in other states who can really use it.' "

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

But before the first truck can head south, farmers need approval from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, was having a letter drafted 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 on to the agency's Washington headquarters.

"At this time we are waiting for a response," said Voss.

Time is critical, Shortall said.

"With the hot weather we're having now the grass will dry up by the middle of next week and if the hay is not harvested, it will begin losing a lot of its protein," he explained.

"We are talking about a lot of hay," said Shortall. "One bale will feed three or four cows a day. That's a lot of cow feed."

He added: "The trucks are ready to go. We have got to act on this quickly."

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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