Haylift saves farms


PLEASANT CITY, OHIO (Dec. 6, 1999) -- Despite the continuing drought in

southeastern Ohio, one woman is determined to save at least 100 farms by finding and transporting hay cross-country.

During the last two months, Mary Woodward, director of Lutheran Social Services in southeastern Ohio, has built a national network to find hay and haul it from as far away as Nebraska to save farm operations in 24 southeastern Ohio counties. This unique disaster response was created when farmers could not count on local services for hay due to drought. She is based in Pleasant City, 100 miles southeast of Columbus.

Ohio continues to suffer one of the worst droughts of the century. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the drought gripping the mid-Atlantic area could surpass the droughts of 1929 and 1966 to become the most devastating drought since the Depression.

Woodward said she sees no relief in sight. "We don't have any water and are ten inches below the average rainfall. Creek beds have dried up. We must haul water, find hay, and hope to re-seed hayfields in the spring."

Woodward, a member of Mt. Ephraim United Methodist Church, hasn't given up. Instead, she has become more determined than ever to save more than 100 family farms by getting hay to them throughout the winter.

Her personal mission reflects that of the Family Farm Drought Response Coalition, an ecumenical

group established in late August that has been addressing critical rural needs. Many farmers are

facing the winter with severe hay shortages, unmanageable debt, and severe emotional strain as a

result of the drought.

The coalition focuses on family, rather than large, company-owned

farms because its mission is to provide critical care to farm

families in urgent need. Already, it has distributed more than 200

loads of donated hay to farms, and request for hay continue to come

from Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and

West Virginia.

Family Farm Drought Response is also operating a toll-free help line

(888-800-0118) that connects farmers with information about available

disaster response resources, including federal, state, and local

government disaster assistance, supplemental hay and grain programs,

and faith-based family support services.

Woodward said 400 to 500 tons of hay are needed this winter to save the drought-stricken farms she is helping. One cow will eat two tons of hay during the winter.

Last month in Mercerville, a score of farmers lined up in a parking lot to take their turn in picking up two large bales of hay each. One bale is about the size of a compact car. Woodward tries to keep this trickle of hay coming to the area she serves. She estimates as many as 1,500 full-time farmers in the region could use help. Many are selling cattle to reduce their herd size because they can't find enough hay for them or can't afford to haul the hay to their cattle.

Woodward established hay distribution when Everett Montgomery, a dairy farmer

who feeds 140 cows, paid more than $2,500 for a tractor-trailer load of junk hay shipped from Michigan. It was unusable. She also sees price gouging driving the cost of a bale of hay from $20 to $40, and the cost of a ton of hay from $120 to $200.

Woodward works closely with the Rev. John Jackson, pastor of New Life Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Gallipolis, Ohio. "I have helped her interface with trucking companies in the area," he said. In addition to preaching, Jackson also farms and knows the plight of the farmers in south Ohio.

"This is an enormously deprived area. We've always been at the bottom economically," he said. "She (Woodward) is trying to bring what she does best to us. She has found hay and seeks a way of getting it here." But most importantly, "she shows us that somebody cares," he said.

Woodward works through churches and church organizations. "We are working with good people," Woodward said, who lives on a farm. Woodward's first priority is assisting full-time farmers, like Montgomery, who farms with his brother. These are farmers with the immediate need that will not wait. Many are continuously on the brink of economic ruin.

Second priority goes to small farm operations of less than 200 acres where one or more family members has another job besides farming, usually in a nearby town. This incorporates people like William Cox in Gallia, who only needs eight to ten bales of hay to get his mother's herd of 15 cattle through the winter. These farmers need hay in three or four weeks to sustain operations.

Third priority goes to farmers who can make it through the winter, but need hay in the spring before hayfields are ready for harvesting.

"We still find hay to buy, but it is getting scarce," Woodward said. Her most immediate need isn't so much obtaining hay but finding a way to transport hay from remote areas, and as far away as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska, to southeastern Ohio. "I'm getting to know a lot of truck drivers," she said.

Woodward is also working on an agreement with rail services to bring hay to

her drought-stricken area. One of the sources of hay shipped by railroad is the Orphan Grain Train, a North American volunteer network that gathers donations of clothing, medicine, food, Christian literature, and other items in response to needs around the world. Orphan Grain Train was founded by a pastor in Nebraska after he visited Latvia in 1992 and saw the need for spiritual and humanitarian aid in countries of the former Soviet Union. Orphan Grain Train has helped Woodward by shipping grain from Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Woodward's efforts have had positive results so far. "We've only lost two farms out of 100," she said. She averages 15 phone calls a week to keep the flow of hay coming. She said she has resources for hay but needs truckers who are willing to donate their services hauling hay from Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan back to Ohio.

"I am willing to provide donations to trucking companies to haul hay. I really need transportation," she said. Many truckers are tied up right now hauling Christmas trees from Wisconsin and Michigan to southern states like Florida. She has been fortunate by having a couple of small southern Ohio trucking firms willing to transport hay back from Michigan. "We have been blessed with a lot of hay donations."

Woodward said the State of Ohio has released $4 million in emergency aid for farmers, but that crop, hay, and pasture losses already have hit $422 million are expected to reach $600 million by the end of the year.

Woodward said she must meet the hay needs of 50 farmers immediately. Another 20 farmers will need hay in another three to four weeks, and 35 farmers can wait until February.

Woodward can be reached at southeast Ohio‚s Lutheran Social Services by calling (740) 838-5627 or contacting her by e-mail at

[email protected]

Updated Dec. 7, 1999

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