USDA rejects Shore offer to ship hay Farmers wanted to feed Florida livestock, starving after recent fires, drought

August 02, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has rejected a humanitarian effort by Eastern Shore farmers to donate thousands of bales of hay to feed starving livestock in drought-ridden, fire-ravaged Florida.

"To say that we are deeply disappointed in the government's action is putting it mildly," Daniel Shortall, a vice president of the Maryland Farm Bureau and a coordinator of the emergency hay-lift effort, said yesterday.

"I can't understand why something couldn't be done to help down-and-out farmers in Florida who have suffered greatly from all those fires and the drought.

"The government will give them money to buy air conditioners," Shortall said of President Clinton's recent decision to authorize $100 million to help Americans pay their electric bills and buy air conditioners and fans, "and we can't send hay to feed their animals. That's ridiculous."

He said hay is rotting in fields.

What complicated the effort, explained James M. Voss, was that the hay the farmers wanted to ship is grown on fields that are registered with a government conservation program to limit pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Voss is director of the Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, which administers USDA policy in the state.

Voss was notified of the USDA's decision this week in a note from Parks Shackelford, the department's deputy administrator for farm programs. Shackelford expressed sympathy for Florida farmers but said the department had no authority to allow emergency haying of land in the conservation program on which farmers are paid to grow a cover crop but are not allowed to harvest it.

Under normal circumstances, Shortall said, "that's fine. But this was an emergency."

He compared it to a lawn and explained that even after the clover and grass that make hay are harvested, ground cover remains to prevent farm runoff into streams.

"It's too late now; the hay has dried up in the field," said Eric Webster, legislative director for Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, who sought an exemption in the law to allow the shipment.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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