KY farmers donate hay to help devastated FL farms

BY GEORGE PIPER | FLORIDA | July 28, 1998


FLORIDA (July 28, 1998) -- When Jason Moats says "hay," people listen.

The Ewing (Ky.) Christian Church pastor is organizing the first of several

375-ton shipments of Kentucky hay to Florida farmers affected this year by

wildfires and drought.

Churches across a six-county area of central Kentucky and two railroad

companies are helping collect and transport the crop so Sunshine State

farmers can feed livestock. Other faith-based disaster response

organizations are gearing up for similar efforts in others parts of the U.S.

"The response has been pretty remarkable," said Moats, a student pastor of

the Disciples of Christ church. "We expect first train load to be delivered

in seven to 10 days."

The endeavor will help Floridians as they recover from the one-two punch

delivered by fires and drought. Farmers along Florida's East coast face fields

blackened by flames while Panhandle areas like Jackson County endured weeks

without rain while vegetation turned brown and died.

"(Farmers) are not only concerned about feeding animals now, but this

winter as well," said Jody Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaith

Networking in Disaster (FIND). That organization, CSX and the Florida

Department of Agriculture will direct hay to the state's hardest hit areas.

Stationed in Pensacola for two years, while he served with the U.S. Navy,

Moats is coordinating hay collection and shipments with volunteers from

other churches, and two railroad companies, CSX and Transkentucky

Transportation

(TTI).

Collection centers have been established so farmers can deliver round or

square hay bales to locations in Carlisle, Cynthiana, Ewing, Maysville and

Paris. The round bales can weigh between 1,000 to 2,100-pounds and need

special equipment to load on the railcars. The smaller bales, weighing 30

to 40-pounds can be loaded by hand. Moats spent most of Tuesday making sure

box cars had arrived at the collection sites.

Not all of the donated hay has been baled. The pastor received a

donation of 54 acres of hay that needed to be harvested. And if the

national Farm Bureau has its way, the project won't stop with Kentucky.

Last week Maryland farmers appealed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

to allow hay to be shipped from that state to Florida.

A student at Lexington Theological Seminary, Moats said he heard national

radio news reports about the drought and discussed the hay relief proposal

with others. "I said, 'We've got a really good hay crop. It should be

really easy to get hay from our farmers,'" he said.

CSX delivered the first of 13 empty boxcars to TTI's main rail yard in

Paris, Ky., on Monday. TTI will move the cars to sidings at Ewing at other

collection points, said Randy Clark, TTI's president. After the hay is

loaded, CSX will provide delivery for free.

It's typical for CSX to donate its services for projects like this, said

Jane Covington, CSX's manager of media relations. The company has rail

lines and offices in both Kentucky and Florida. "We're happy to help the

people affected by the drought, who are probably friends and neighbors of

CSX employees," she

said.

In Jackson County, FL, farmers are struggling to keep 35,000 cattle

and other livestock fed. The area is finally receiving rain, but it may be

a month before farmers can produce hay, said Henry E. Jowers, the county's

agriculture extension director.

Farming is a $75 million industry in the county, and Jowers is just

beginning to access potential losses for its 900 farms. The University of

Florida assembled a disaster team to access primarily the financial and

emotional problems faced by farmers.

Although Florida is the only state currently targeted for hay relief, other

kinds of response efforts for farmers may be used in other drought and

disaster-stricken states.

The southern heat wave pushed temperatures to more than 100 degrees in

Texas for more than 21 consecutive days in some regions. Weather is blamed

for at

least 81 deaths and crop damage of more than $1.5 billion statewide.

While Texas farmers battle record temperatures, Norman Hein, CWS Regional

Facilitator and director of Lutheran Social Services in Texas said disaster

response organizations are evaluating an appropriate response.

The lack of rain and high temperatures are contributing to little growth

for grain farmers. Relief efforts, Hein said, could include acquiring grain

from the Midwest so TX farmers have seed to plant next year, comparing the

project to a similar one used in the Dakotas in the early 1990s.

While farmer assistance ideas are developed in other areas, the first

13-box-car load of Kentucky hay is expected to arrive in Florida late next

week.

"You know," said one farmer who donated hay, "the thing is the Good Lord

has given me many gifts. Most of the time I've just been able to survive,

but this is one of those times I've been able to share it with those who

are in need far away from here."

Updated July 28, 1998


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