North Carolina agencies join hands in battling drought

As an agronomist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the far western counties of the state, Bill Yarborough has been a “go-to” man for advice on soil and nutrient management for nearly 30 years.

In the past couple of years, however, the Haywood County resident has shown leadership in another area — disaster relief. In 2005, Yarborough coordinated efforts to document agricultural damage from the 2004 fall hurricanes. This year, his focus is the drought-induced hay shortage.

“The current drought is the worst I’ve seen, and it could have a devastating and irreversible impact on our farms,” Yarborough said. “Unless we act quickly, livestock producers will go out of business, land will be sold, and the new crop will be condos. Preserving farmland is important, and that’s what is driving me to get out and do something about this situation.”

The drought has triggered the NCDA&CS Emergency Programs Division to implement its incident command system, with Yarborough in charge of operations. The Easter freeze, followed by a growing period of extremely low rainfall, left cattle producers in western counties without sufficient pasture crops or hay to feed their animals. In eastern counties, many grain farmers will not have a crop to harvest. Although the situation seems dire, Yarborough believes there is a way to lessen the impact.

“Every single county in North Carolina is in the same boat,” Yarborough said, “but it’s not hopeless. We can help each other. Down east, farmers have corn and soybeans that aren’t growing. If they get approval to salvage their insured crops, they can bale those crops for feed. The department of agriculture is putting sellers in touch with buyers and lining up transportation options. The more we work together, the easier the situation will be for everyone.”

Since beginning work on this assignment in mid-August, Yarborough has spearheaded five educational demonstrations at various locations throughout the state. These sessions have addressed baling alternative feed such as corn stalks or stover and soybean hay, testing for nutritional quality, dealing with pesticide and pest quarantine issues, and ways to facilitate communication within the agricultural community.

NCDA&CS has established a Web site ( and a hotline (1-866-506-6222, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., M-F) so people who have hay and people who need hay can find out how to contact each other.

Recently, Yarborough received a frantic call from a dairyman who was desperate to find out how he could get in touch with someone who had hay. “I have to have feed, and your program is the only game in town,” the man said.

Although Yarborough has been a tireless crusader in trying to help farmers, he credits the cooperation of many agencies for the ability to get alternative feeds moving across the state.

“The reason we’ve had success so far is that so many agencies have come together so quickly,” Yarborough said. “Everyone recognizes the immediate need that exists and the small window of opportunity we have to harvest some of these damaged crops for different purposes. Because of the teamwork, we have been able to mobilize potential resources more quickly than I would have ever imagined.”

Yarborough serves growers in Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Swain and Yancey counties. He can be reached by phone at (828) 456-3943.

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