Lifting hay, hopes during drought Lee County, Ala., producer Joe Rudd had never seen anything like it in his 50 years as a cattle producer.

Like most veteran producers, Rudd had endured his share of dry summers. A time or two, he even had to cut into hay reserves that otherwise would have been stored for winter.

But nothing prepared him for the summer drought of 2000.

All his life, he had prided himself on being self-sufficient, producing all of his own feed to supplement pasture grazing. Watering the livestock was a never a problem, thanks to a nearby spring he and his father had used for decades.

Supply depleted By August, 2000, the east Alabama producer's hay reserve was depleted. The spring that he and his father had depended on so long for watering had stopped flowing. As the late Harry Truman would have described it, the 2000 drought truly is "one for the books."

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bishop already had seen it coming as early as May. As the specter of drought descended across central and south Alabama, he issued a challenge to cattle producers in the drought-free regions of the state: "Your neighbors to the south are hurting and need help."

What followed will be remembered as one of the most successful farm-relief efforts in Alabama: a statewide "haylift" targeted to cattle producers in drought-stressed regions of the state.

Extension agents throughout the state played a major role coordinating these relief efforts. While Extension agents in drought-stressed regions of south Alabama worked with public and private counterparts to identify local producers in need of hay, agents in north Alabama worked with other groups to identify local producers willing to donate hay.

Crucial role Tim Reed, Extension coordinator in Franklin County, was one of several agents who played a crucial role coordinating relief efforts from north Alabama.

Reed alerted local producers to the severity of the drought through newspaper articles as well as newsletters and posters distributed to key locations throughout the county.

As offers to help began pouring into the office, Reed paid personal visits to every producer willing to lend a hand. Belgreen cattle producer Floyd Willingham, Jr., and father, Floyd, Sr., worked closely with Reed from the very beginning.

"I'm sure if I'm ever in trouble because of drought, farmers in south Alabama will help me out," says the soft-spoken Floyd, Jr., who donated close to 100 bales toward relief efforts.

Overall, producers in Franklin County donated more than 400 bales of hay to the relief effort.

Across the state in Jackson County, Extension Coordinator Goodrich "Dus" Rogers enlisted eight producers in his county who either donated hay outright or sold it at reduced cost. When the haylift ended on Sept. 9, these producers had contributed more than 5,000 round bales of hay to relief efforts.

34 counties Statewide, more than 18 million pounds of hay have been provided to producers in 34 drought-stressed counties.

"I don't think it matters if you're in north Alabama or Timbuktu, farmers are going to help each other out no matter what," says Rogers, whose own county endured prolonged drought last year.

"If drought ever returns to Jackson County, I have no doubt farmers in other parts of the state will help us just as we helped them."

The Extension System also has provided drought-related information and other educational materials to farmers and livestock producers through its emergency drought website: http://www.aces.edu/drought.

The site features information concerning whom to contact about drought-related problems, news stories and publications on a wide array of topics.

Until the haylift ended, a major part of the site was a county-by-county database of hay needs and contact information. The site also carries other resources and links for row-crop producers and forest landowners.

As for Joe Rudd - well, he's still in the cattle business, thanks to the haylift.

"If I had to feed my cows out of the bag, using commercial feed, I would be out of the livestock business," Rudd says.

"This is a business I've been in all my life. I enjoy doing it and I want to continue. This is my first haylift - the first time I've ever received anything like this. I'm very proud to get it."