Drought driving hay, food prices higher

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

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As the severe drought in Georgia persists, and water supplies become scarcer, local hay supplies are in shortage as prices skyrocket. Local horse and cattle farmers are feeling the pinch according to local hay suppliers.

Alan Verner, who owns Verner Farms in Rutledge, which supplies North and Middle Georgia farmers with hay, noted that prices for hay are up 15 percent, while other suppliers’ prices have jumped up by 50 percent.

“It gets more and more expensive as we have to ship in our hay from farther areas of the country,” explained Verner. “This year the drought has been so widespread in Georgia, it’s been much more significant in the northern two-thirds of the state, and it has caused a significant shortage of hay…We are probably between 45 percent and 50 percent of our usual hay supply right now.”

According to Verner, local horse and cattle farmer are paying more for their hay supplies and are in need of more than in previous years. During the spring and summer months, farmers usually rely heavily on grass to feed their livestock. However, the drought coupled with higher temperatures has destroyed much of the grass supplies, forcing farmers to purchase hay in larger quantities before the winter months even begin.

“It’s a double whammy,” said Verner.  “Some farmers have already gone through full winter season supplies of hay since July. The prime hay feeding season usually doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving, but already, some local farmers have already gone through full winter’s season supply of hay.”

Some farmers are being forced to sell off their horses and cattle due to the lack of water and hay supplies required to properly nourish the livestock.

“As farmers sell off their cattle, it floods the market and we may see beef prices drop,” said Verner.

Animal Shelter officials fear the hay shortage will lead to a rise is horse starvation and nutrient-deprivation. Julie Anne Holland, a horse trainer who works with the Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter, told the Athens Banner-Herald that equine rescues across are being flooded with surrendered horses. “People are dropping horses left and right because they don’t want to feed them,” said Holland, a local horse trainer who works with the Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter. “What you’re going to see is a lot of starving horses and a lot of sick horses,” she said.

Verner’s farm is reaching farther west to procure hay supplies for their consumers. “This year we are expanding into the Midwest more, bringing in large bails, just to try to help fill in the gaps for people who don’t think they have enough to get through from now until spring,” said Verner.

While Morgan County finally got its first decent rainfall this past Tuesday in almost four months, more consistent rainfall will be needed to overcome this drought.

Climatologists fear the severe drought may persist in 2017, which could place serious burdens on Georgia farmers who will face rising hay costs and unrecovered soil.

“If we haven’t been able to recover that soil moisture that we’ve lost, we could really see another bad drought in 2017,” said University of Georgia climatologist Pam Knox in an interview with the Athens Banner-Herald.

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