I write to tell you of a coming disaster in an unselfish effort to mitigate its effects. The drought that we've been suffering this year is going to decimate parts of the agricultural economy in South Carolina — and provides some unique opportunities.
Timeliness in agriculture, by its very nature, is of the essence as "The Golden Hour" is for firefighters, EMS and other disaster-response personnel. When there is a pending agricultural problem, the window of opportunity is open for a very short time. Folks with bully pulpits are whispering about what I'm going to tell you, and they're waiting for some bureaucratic mechanism to get the word out. Thank God for the freedom of the press, as you can help get the word out quickly.
Cattle and horses depend on forage as a major portion of their diets. (Forage is feed such as grass, hay and straw.) They must eat large amounts of forage to stay healthy. Our drought has cut production of hay in South Carolina and the rest of the Southeast, and has, even in the late spring and early summer emptied critical reserves in the Midwest and Plains states. The Southeast hasn't been able to produce nearly enough hay to get through the winter, as many livestock producers are and have been feeding hay virtually all spring and summer when pastures should be green and growing, the hay barns filling and the livestock gaining weight to help them through the winter. The Midwest and Plains states' hay producers shipped much of their inventory of forage to the Southeast back in May and June, emptying their barns out. They have suffered drought, too, and flooding has ruined fields and hampered hay production.
This drought will be much worse than the one back in 1986 when the hay lift helped us out. The Midwest doesn't have the hay to send. It is also very expensive to haul hay for long distances because of the high price of fuel and the bulky nature of the forage.
S.C. cattle farmers usually grow most of their own hay. This year they're having to choose between paying through the nose for hay or selling off parts or all of their herds in order to decrease the need to buy hay or to come up with the money to buy hay to feed the rest of their herd. Many of these cattle, even fine breeding stock, are going to feedlots out west and will not return to the green pastures of South Carolina when this drought ends.
I am a farmer who has raised cattle and horses and produced hay and other crops. I presently have no livestock and a very small supply of hay that is not a drop in the bucket of what it will take to solve this problem.
Recent stories in your paper have begun to reveal the life-threatening dangers in depending upon food that we eat coming from overseas. Our state Farm Bureau and S.C. Department of Agriculture are promoting locally grown food at an important time.
It takes nine months for a cow's gestation and then a year for that calf to grow to go to market. (One cow has one calf per year if she is doing her job perfectly.) That's basically two years in the cattle life growth cycle in good times. Recovery from this drought would take three or more good years; and the average age of cattle producers in South Carolina is 48, so many are retiring from the cattle business if they sell all of their cows. (Compare that to a hen that lays one egg per day, and it hatches in 21 days and goes to market in less than 8 weeks if the producer wants to stay in business.)
There is no solution to this problem. All of this background info is necessary to educate the public on the situation.
More corn was planted by grain farmers this year than any year since 1944, which was during World War II.
They did this because prices for corn had increased just before planting time. Markets now are somewhat softer than they were, but combines are rolling through the cornfields of South Carolina even as we speak. The corn is destined to become grits, taco chips, corn meal, corn oil, corn syrup, sweetener in soda pop, ethanol fuel and feed for a variety of animals. The corn used in alcohol fuel production is actually not lost to the food supply system in our country — some of the components are made into fuel, and the distiller's grain (leftover mash) is a very high-quality, high-protein livestock feed ingredient.
However, one component is being wasted. Actually the product is not being wasted, only underutilized, and an opportunity for much greater use and value is being wasted.
The combines are rolling through S.C. cornfields. Bush hogs or rotary cutters just like those used to mow the shoulders of our highways are running in those fields grinding and scattering the fodder (corn stalks, leaves, shucks, cobs and any lost kernels of corn) over the field. This will decay and be either mulch left on top of the soil or be plowed under to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil.
With cattlemen desperate for forage for cattle, corn producers could make a little money by baling their corn stubble instead of leaving it in the field. This would help preserve the cattle business in South Carolina.
Corn fodder has been used to help supplement hungry livestock in drought-stricken areas for years. It is important that grain farmers find out about this opportuntiy to help themselves and others because the corn stalks start to decompose very quickly. Please tell these guys to help. Clemson, the S.C. Department of Agriculture and the S.C. Farm Bureau are trying to come up with ways to help, but your paper, your readers, and our corn farmers need to act now.
Horse owners should be interested in this as horses must as a rule have higher-quality forages than do cattle. (Cattle are ruminants and have four stomachs and can digest rougher stuff than horses.)
If baled corn stubble were available, the cost would be cheaper than hay for the cattleman, bringing extra income to the corn grower and decreasing the demand pressure for hay that the horse owner needs.
Hay producers who might not have anything to do right now could "make hay while the sun shines" by hooking up with corn producers to bale their stalks up.
Something for folks to look at, talk about, and do.
Baled corn fodder can be ammoniated to make it even better feed. Ask the Clemson Extension Service to tell you about it.
Jim Ulmer is a farmer from North.