Ohio offers hand to Gulf Coast farmers

SALEM, Ohio – With news of an impending hurricane, Louisiana cattlemen hauled their animals from the Gulf Coast to safety farther north.
But months later, even after the waters receded and rebuilding began, many cattle still can’t return.
First it was because there was too much water, then it was because the leftover salt killed the grass and crops, and now it’s because there isn’t enough water. They need rain to dilute the salt in the fields but, so far, farmers are still waiting for that rain to fall.
In the meantime, Ohio farmers are jumping in to help.
But they’re having difficulties of their own.
Finding help. Shortly after hurricanes Rita and Katrina, Duane Plessinger saw a special on the news about the plight of Louisiana farmers. Plessinger, a member of his local cattlemen’s association near Dayton, Ohio, contacted the show’s producers and hooked up with a feed plant about 50 miles from one of the devastated areas.
He got the word out and Ohio farmers raised enough money to deliver two semiloads of feed to 280 cattlemen in Vermilion Parish, La.
Hay efforts. From the start, however, taking hay to these farmers was the priority, Plessinger said.
It was easy to round up tons of donated hay, but getting it south was the problem.
FEMA shut down Plessinger’s efforts to get the Air Force to haul it. Then, more recently, Plessinger also got a “no” from the Ohio National Guard.
As he struggles to find ways to ship the hay, Ohio farmers are stepping up with their pickup trucks and trailers.
Volunteering. Darren Rismiller had just cleaned out his turkey barns in Darke County and had two weeks before the new ones arrived. Perfect timing, he thought, to make a quick trip to Louisiana.
In February, he hauled 10 tons of hay in his gooseneck trailer to a town in the northwestern part of the state. It took 18 hours and 973 miles to get there and afterward he turned around and came right home.
Fellowship of Christian Farmers, which has several efforts under way to help farmers affected by the hurricanes, has offered to pick up the tab for farmers like Rismiller who make the trip.
“I’d rather do this than just donate money,” Rismiller said. “It’s helping people like me.”
Bryan Bailey, another western Ohio farmer, agreed.
When he first heard about the damage from the hurricane, his initial instinct was to head south. But it wasn’t until he heard about Plessinger’s attempts to deliver hay that he actually made the trip.
Bailey delivered 11,000 pounds of hay to a ranch near Shreveport, La., Feb. 18. The farmer was taking care of 800 head of cattle, most of which weren’t his own, and they were resorting to eating sticks because there just wasn’t enough pasture for all of them, he said.
More help needed. So far, three Ohio farmers have made the 1,000-mile journey to deliver hay.
But there is enough hay for another 10 trips, Plessinger said.
Last week, he began moving the hay to a holding area off Interstate 70. He hopes commercial companies may consider picking up a load if they’re traveling south with an empty truck.
By having the hay right off the highway, Plessinger said he’s trying to make things as easy as possible for someone to help.
In the meantime, he’s busy making pleas on the radio and negotiating with barge companies.
“We’re not giving up,” he said. “Even with all these obstacles, we’re going to help these people.”

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