Perspectives Online

Extension offers drought-management strategies

Each fall, North Carolina seems to be faced with some type of disaster related to water: either too much or too little. This year, August’s high temperatures, combined with low rainfall through the summer created what is believed to be the state’s worst drought on record.

Across the state, North Carolina Cooperative Extension rose to the task of helping growers and homeowners cope with water restrictions, dying crops and a feed crisis for livestock.

Drought management was included in topics at Extension’s annual livestock agent training in early August. A hay needs assessment was introduced at the meeting and was later distributed to all agents. Agents also received a PowerPoint presentation for operator meetings, speaker notes and a general newspaper story on drought-management strategies.

In addition, seven multicounty drought conferences were held across the state, and three additional conferences have been proposed. Several training sessions planned for agents will help them strengthen their abilities in feed budgeting, nutritional management and problem solving.

County centers, with the help of specialists, held meetings to help growers and livestock producers understand strategies for managing the drought.

Livestock operators were hit hard this year, first by the Easter freeze that devastated the hay crop and then by the late-season drought. Information on culling herds and managing pastures will be helpful to producers not only in this crisis but in dry years to come.

As the summer temperatures soared, Associate Extension Director Ed Jones pulled together a group of specialists to discuss how to deliver the information Extension agents needed to help their citizens. The group developed a drought Web site where specialists post updates and other information to address producers’ many needs. To date, more than 30 entries have been posted to the site:

Cooperative Extension agents also have partnered with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Hay Alert initiative, helping operators in need find reasonably priced hay. They helped get the word out to growers and producers through local television, radio and newspapers.

“We have witnessed a high level of cooperation between growers willing to bale drought-starved cornstalks, soybean hay and other alternative feeds for livestock and livestock operators who desperately need these resources,” said Dr. Jon Ort, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. “Extension agents are helping to make these important connections happen.”

In a western county, a livestock agent was contacted by a major grocery store chain that offered to use money set aside for harvest decor in the stores to buy hay for drought-stressed livestock producers instead. A quick calculation by this agent revealed that the store’s money would go further if used to buy hay from a source nearby, thus helping the store maximize its contribution to growers.

In a memo to Cooperative Extension this fall, Ort told the organization, “I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you across the state for your response to this disaster. By going the extra mile to help our state cope with a serious disaster, you have shown once again why North Carolina Cooperative Extension is one of our state’s most valuable resources.”

—Natalie Hampton