Farmers, businesses and farm organizations in Kentucky rose to the aid of their brothers and sisters to the south. They donated feed, fencing and other farm supplies to the storm-ravaged farmers in the Gulf Coast states. The aid helped beleaguered farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi fence in their livestock herds and bought them some time to get back on their feet, according to leaders there who were involved in distributing the donations.
Some farmers are still struggling, but others have restored their operations to some point, they said.
"Our farmers are back to some sense of normalcy," said Elmo Collum, coordinator for Mississippi's pesticide safety education program.
"What [Kentucky farmers] sent was very important," said Wayne Wyatt, a professor at Louisiana State University's Iberia agricultural research station in Jeanerette. "It helped a lot of people."
Kentucky farmers and farm organizations raised about $20,000 in feed, fencing and other supplies for farmers in Mississippi and Louisiana who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"I applaud all Kentuckians who gave so generously to this cause," Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said. "You threw a lifeline to farmers in the hurricane-affected areas in their hour of need. On behalf of everyone who got a roll of barbed wire or a few sacks of feed to get them through the day: Thank you."
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture spearheaded the drive to raise donations of feed, fencing and other supplies. The Kentucky Cattlemen's Association accepted cash donations that were used to buy more farm supplies.
Collum and Roger Jones of New Augusta, Miss., an official with Heifer International, said donations of barbed wire and electric fence helped producers get their livestock back together, assess their condition and restore them to health.
The donated farm supplies were distributed to dozens of farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi.
"Our goal was to give people breathing room for their immediate needs so they could make good decisions," Wyatt said.
Collum said farmers who benefited from the donations of farm supplies were amazed at the outpouring of aid from other parts of the country.
"Our farmers can't believe that people would do something like this," he said. "It is appreciated what everybody has done. It shows what type of people are in agriculture."
Collum and Jones said much of the fencing in Mississippi that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina has been restored. "[Farmers] are getting their fences up, and they have got their herds back together to where they are in a pretty healthy position now," Collum said.
The entire region now is suffering from a shortage of hay. The hurricanes were followed by a lengthy dry spell. Collum said Mississippi farmers had to graze some of the pasture they normally would grow for hay and have struggled to make a stand of fall ryegrass for their livestock to graze during the winter. Jones said farmers started feeding hay in mid-September.
"We can't find hay anywhere in this part of the country," Jones said.
When hay is shipped in from more distant locations, "the transportation cost is killing us," Wyatt said.
Collum said Mississippi stockpiled some hay in anticipation of the storms and rationed it on a weekly basis.
"We tell them, 'Don't think about today; think about 30-45 days from now," he said.
Jones said barbed wire and fence posts are hard to find in the affected areas.
Much of the affected land was left with elevated levels of salt as a result of the storm surge and subsequent dry spell, Wyatt said. Pastures of bermudagrass, which is salt-tolerant, are coming back, but ryegrass sown since the hurricanes is struggling to germinate.
After the storms, the number of cattle sold in Mississippi auctions was up to four times the normal number, Collum said. Prices there have held up well in spite of the increased sales, he said.
"Some of our producers culled their herds to a manageable size," Collum said. "Some haven't, and they are the ones who are in dire straits."