Aroostook County farmers facing hay shortages

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AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine (WAGM) - The drought up until a couple weeks ago hampered growth of crops across the region, including hay.

As a result, those with farm animals are struggling to fill their barns in time for winter. Production is down considerably from past years.

"The hay shortage is critical right now because you don't just have another feed source," said Hollie Umphrey, the executive director of Central Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation. "And when we're ready to fill the barns and start looking at putting the animals in for the winter, for their feed, we're finding that with the drought we're drastically short - some up to a third, if not more. It's not only just the horse owners, it's also your beef producer."

Dairy farmer Tom Drew said the weather was a major factor - from late snow, to drought conditions and then heat - stressing the crop.

"Those of us who needed quantity, we had to pass up quality," said Drew. "Because of the short growing season in Aroostook County, we don't have the opportunity for a second cutting of hay, so we find ourselves making every spear of grass count, baling things we normally wouldn't, just to try to have enough volume to get through the winter."

A Smyrna large animal rescue said owners of a bison farm sold them the hay they have now, but when that's gone, it's uncertain how they'll get more.

"They were kind enough to go ahead and use their equipment and hay and we were able to get round bales from them. If it hadn't been for them, we probably wouldn't have any hay in right now," said Brandy Clark, the barn manager at A Life Line.

Like the others, Nashville Plantation resident Sarah Brooks is struggling to meet the needs of her herd of horses and a donkey. This is the first time since the mid-1980s she's had to go off her own land to hay. In the past, she averaged over 5,000 bales on her own land. This year she's gotten about 3,000 and continues to reach out to neighbors and friends for any opportunity to hay another field.

Brooks said, "We had the drought conditions, we had the high humidity that you couldn't put hay in, we had the issue with the bed-straw. And it just created a perfect storm for us to be in the situation that we're in now."

With community support, they hope to be able to pull through the winter.

If anyone has hay or a field available to cut and would like to help out in central and northern Aroostook, call the Central Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District at 207-764-4604.