FARGO - Drought is causing serious trouble for many North Dakota ranchers who are looking for hay to feed their animals, but officials say help will soon be on the way.
The North Dakota State University Agricultural Experiment Station and the state Department of Agriculture are working to create a lottery that will provide hay to livestock producers.
In the coming weeks, a convoy of semis will transport hay to North Dakota from donating states like Michigan, where a group called Ag Community Relief is coordinating the effort and offsetting the costs involved.
"We're grateful for their generosity and their concern for our North Dakota producers," said Doug Goehring, the state's agriculture commissioner.
Goehring said anyone with hay they would like to donate may call the Agriculture Department's drought hotline at (701) 425-8454. NDSU will be the collection point for donated hay that will then be transported to sites around North Dakota.
Ranchers who want to apply for the lottery can go to the Agriculture Department's website to fill out an application, or call the department at (701) 328-4764 for help in applying.
The application deadline is Aug. 31. The first lottery drawing will be in early September.
Ranchers picked to receive hay must provide their own transportation. Helping out with that will be a volunteer organization called Farm Rescue, which is based in Horace.
Farm Rescue President Bill Gross said the group has already been hauling hay from Wisconsin to drought-stricken areas of North Dakota this summer. He said the group plans to offer volunteer drivers to transport hay from the NDSU collection site to ranches in North Dakota.
The demand for hay has been so strong that Farm Rescue is seeking more volunteer drivers, Gross said. Anyone wanting to help should call (701) 252-2017.
In addition to NDSU serving as a collection point for donated hay, NDSU staff will assist with unloading and loading hay. "We're very grateful to be one of the agencies that's helping with this effort," said Greg Lardy, head of the NDSU Animal Sciences department.
Lardy said he recently spoke to ranchers in the Hazen area who still need 100 to 1,000 bales of hay to get their livestock through the winter.
Goehring said one rancher he talked to who normally stores about 3,000 to 4,000 bales a year only had 71 stored so far this summer.
"If our livestock don't have enough forage this year, they (ranchers) will end up having to disperse herds," Goehring said, adding that already this year about 78,000 more livestock have been sold through auction barns than would be sold in an average year.