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Maine livestock producers could face hay shortage this winter due to drought

In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, hay dries after a recent cut at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, hay dries after a recent cut at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine.

As Maine experiences its third consecutive year of drought, livestock farmers in the state are beginning to think differently about how they feed and care for their animals.

Higher temperatures increase the risk of heat stress in animals, and dry conditions often diminish hay production, said Colt Knight, the state's livestock specialist.

He said livestock producers in the southwest traditionally prepare for drought every year.

"Some folks in the Northeast aren't used to that mentality," said Knight, who's also an associate extension professor at the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension. "I think they're beginning to understand they probably need to plan for drought more often than they have in the past."

Nearly three-quarters of Maine's population lives in an abnormally dry or drought-stricken area, according to a recent report from the state's Drought Task Force.

Livestock producers in Maine could have a harder time finding the hay they need to feed their animals this fall and winter.

Most producers won't see shortages now, Knight said, because the first hay crop in Maine earlier this year was strong in most areas. But drought conditions will stunt growth for the second crop.

When their supplies have run low in the past, livestock producers in Maine purchased hay from upstate New York and Canada. But if the drought conditions persist, the price of hay will likely go up as the demand increases, Knight said.

"You add in the extra shipping costs, and then this year is going to be exceptionally bad because of the high fuel prices," he said. "So it would be better to stock up and purchase that stuff now when it's available than to wait until you run out in the winter time."

Livestock producers who need help calculating how much forage they'll need to get through the winter can contact their local cooperative extension office, Knight said.