Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has announced changes to a state program that helps livestock owners pay the cost of trucking in hay from outside North Carolina.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services established the Ag and Equine Partners Program last year to help owners of cattle, sheep, goats and horses with the cost of transporting hay from other states and Canada.

The program reimburses farmers and ranchers for transporting out-of-state hay at a rate of 50 cents per mile round trip or $1 per loaded mile, up to $500 per load.

Troxler announced the following changes to the program:

• Extended window of eligibility: Livestock owners may apply for assistance on up to four loads of out-of-state hay delivered since July 1, 2007. Previously, the program paid reimbursements on one load delivered between Sept. 1 and Dec. 3, 2007, and up to three loads delivered after Dec. 3.

• Lower load-size minimum: Hay loads must weigh at least 10,000 pounds to qualify for assistance. Originally, the minimum was 18,750 pounds.

• Lower mileage minimum: Loads must travel at least 50 miles. Originally, the minimum was 100 miles.

• Application deadline: All applications must be postmarked by May 1.

“We certainly want to help farmers and ranchers who saw the hay shortage coming and looked after themselves by buying out-of-state hay last summer,” Troxler said.

The program is supported by private contributions and state funds. As of April 4, payments to livestock owners totaled more than $200,000. About $136,000 remained in the fund.

Applications and eligibility criteria are available online at www.ncagr.com/hayalert/agpartners.htm or by calling the toll-free Hay Alert hotline at (866) 506-6222 weekdays.

Livestock owners who have purchased hay grown in North Carolina can apply for transportation cost-share assistance through the Golden Hay Relief Program. Information is available at www.ncagr.com/hayalert/goldenhay.htm or by calling the hotline.