Sidney Law didn't intend to become such a popular guy. But once farmers learned Law could lead them to hay at easy prices, his phone started ringing off the hook.
Soon Law, a Washington County agent with the University of Georgia Extension Service, had to find a better way to get the word out. Now his office maintains a World Wide Web site <http://www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/washington/> to direct drought-plagued Georgia farmers to the hay they need.
"Some local cattlemen were telling me, 'We've been feeding hay all summer,'" Law said. "I just felt sorry for them. They've had a rough summer. So I started looking for hay sources."
Hot, dry weather from late spring through most of the summer parched Georgia pastures and other grazing. Georgia farmers normally cut and store hay during the summer to feed livestock during the winter. But the summer drought has left them facing a serious shortage of hay.
Law found some hay in Kentucky, including some free hay. The agriculture department there worked with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin to get the word out. And a news release from Irvin's agency connected the words "free hay" with Law's Sandersville, Ga., office.
"'Free' wasn't quite right," Law said. "Some Kentucky farmers had some free hay. But you had to transport it down here. All of the hay had a cost in one way or another."
The cost was often low, though. And Law's phone was constantly busy.
"The demand for hay information was overwhelming," said Bill Lambert, assistant dean for extension with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "The Internet site is an attempt to ease the burden of calls and improve the flow of information."
The Web site lists the names, addresses and phone numbers of hay sources. It gives the type of bale and the kind of hay, too, along with the amount available and price. It also provides information on forage fields, pasture for rent and transportation available.
Lambert has instructed county agents in all Georgia counties both to direct farmers to the Web site and to provide hay information to Law's office to keep the site up-to-date.
"We will also be working closely with the Georgia Farm Bureau and other agencies to make this as complete an information site as possible," Lambert said.
Farm Bureau will publish a hay directory in October. The sources in it will be listed on the UGA Web site. The directory will be available in all county Farm Bureau and Extension Service offices, too.
Locally, Lambert said, county Extension Service agents may work with farmers, businesses and agencies on hay deals. Law, for instance, worked with other Washington County farm groups to bring two tractor-trailer loads of reduced-price Kentucky hay to 20 livestock farmers. Two local trucking companies did the hauling free as a backhaul.
"The information flow is beginning to work well," Law said. "We're hoping to eventually hear from a lot more sources, especially from those closer by. Some farmers even in Georgia were able to make hay this summer. The need for hay is strong. We just need to help connect that demand with the supply."
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)