A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

KY farmers rise en masse to offer badly needed hay for fellow Nebraska farmers in wake of flooding

By Carol Lea Spence
University of Kentucky

In America’s breadbasket, where the iconic image is “amber waves of grain,” Nebraska grain farmers and livestock producers are instead facing sodden, sand-covered fields, washed-out fencing and a tragic loss of cattle after the worst flooding in 50 years hit their region in March. Kentucky farmers understand what they’re going through, and they are rising en masse to send aid through the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

“If you farm very long, you’ve been in a situation where you’ve needed help,” said Freida Smith of New Liberty in Owen County. “We had a storm in 2006 that came through and wiped out 13 buildings, so we know what it’s like to be standing there feeling helpless.”

Smith provided the spark that ignited the idea of a statewide drive. She and her husband David had to dispose of most of their cattle herd during his illness last year. When David died, Smith found herself with several hundred round bales of hay she no longer needed. She contacted Kendal Bowman, Owen County agriculture and natural resources extension agent, to ask for help in getting it to Nebraska farmers, whose plight she had seen on the nightly news.

Volunteers stack bales of hay at the Owen County Fairgrounds. The bales are destined for Nebraska. (Photo by Carol Lea Spence)

Bowman made a few phone calls, one of which was to his district director, Willie Howard, and another to the Owen County Cattlemen’s Association, whose farmers immediately rose to the cause.

“Next thing I know, we decided to do a statewide drive,” Bowman said. “It just kind of exploded from there. We’ve got agents from across the state who are helping out with this process.”

The Owen County Fairgrounds parking lot was bustling on a recent Monday, as truckload after truckload of hay came in from farms around the district. Monty and Mary Rosson from Clark County donated their time and their rig to help transport the hay from Owenton to a warehouse in Frankfort, the hub for contributions from around the state.

Transporting about 30 large round bales at a time, they made four trips that day alone. The couple has two daughters who live in Nebraska, so they’ve heard firsthand how bad the situation is there and wanted to help.

Everyone involved, whether or not they have family in the Midwest, feels the same way. Doug Shepperson, who runs a small herd of Dexter cattle on 40 acres in Clark County, dropped off eight round bales at the Frankfort site.

“I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and I understand the troubles and trials that farmers go through,” he said. “Everybody needs help sometimes. We understand. We’ve been blessed, so we just pass it on.”

Extension ANR agents Samantha Anderson and Curtis Dame, Graves and Hopkins counties respectively, collected $8,000 worth of supplies, including fence posts, barbed wire, 200 cases of bottled water, nonperishable food items and livestock feed. They had help from Kentucky Farm Bureau offices in Graves, Fulton and Hickman counties. Many other counties around the state have joined the cause by collecting more of the same.

“The generosity in Western Kentucky was unprecedented,” Anderson said. “You always want to help your neighbors, but so many people went above and beyond.”

Donations have also included trucking and money for fuel costs. Tierney Storage donated warehouse space in Frankfort and a tractor and forklift among other aids. Peaks Mill Christian Church contributed $2,000, and the Franklin County Conservation Office is letting extension use their plastic wrapper and donated plastic to shrink wrap the hay bales. Franklin County 4-H and FFA are helping to inventory the contributions.

Trucks will start rolling out of Frankfort Friday morning, April 26, beginning the 12- to 14-hour drive to Nance County, Nebraska. Keenan Bishop, Franklin County agriculture and natural resources agent, has been coordinating the activity at the warehouse in Frankfort. He thinks there will be eight semis of hay and two more of fencing and cleaning supplies. In fact, they may end up with more contributions than that, when everything is finally in.

“I’m impressed,” he said. “It’s primarily all been from word of mouth after UK Cooperative Extension sent out the initial email request. People have been more than generous.”

Becky Thompson, director of the Kentucky Beef Network, is a native of Nebraska. Her father, Ray Bennett, still lives there. He is president of Boone/Nance County Cattlemen’s Association and is coordinating distribution on that end.

“I had no idea that it was going to get this large. It’s very humbling,” Thompson said. “It’s a huge blessing to know that the agriculture community cares so much that they would help another farmer they’ve never met.”
Smith is happy her idea has taken off and Kentucky farmers have been so generous.

“It makes me feel proud to be a Kentuckian and associated with agriculture,” she said. “I hope David’s smiling down, watching it.”

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