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Iowa hay on its way to parched South

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LUANA, Iowa --- Northeast Iowa farmers want to play a role in bailing out cattle ranchers facing a devastating dry spell this year.

Duaine Davis of rural Luana spent part of Monday morning at his farm loading 54 bales of hay onto a freightliner truck. Several miles away at another Clayton County farm, more good Samaritans secured hay for a special delivery.

The hay is bound for drought-stricken Texas, where cattle ranchers have had to ship in hay from afar at inflated prices to feed their livestock. Hard times have forced some farmers to take more drastic measures.

"They said it was so dry there," Davis said. "they said they all had to sell their herds off."

Davis, along with several area farmers, want to help tide these cattle farmers over until the forecast changes.

Davis heard about the plight of the cattlemen from his pastor, the Rev. Harold McMillin of St. John Lutheran Church in Luana. McMillian learned about the drought from pastors from Texas while attending the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.

McMillin suggested rounding up donations of grain from Iowa farmers to ship to Texas. To date, at least five farmers have agreed to donate hay, according to the ELCA's Northeastern Iowa Synod, based in Waverly, which is spearheading the pilot project. Lutheran Disaster Relief is contributing $25,000 to purchase more hay and to alleviate transportation costs.

Once in Texas, the hay will be distributed by two churches there: Bethel Evangelical Lutheran in Avoca and Trinity Lutheran in Miles. The churches will give the hay to families with the greatest needs.

John Forbes, a driver for Hawkins Trucking of Waukon, helped secure hay bales at the Davis farm on Monday. He typically hauls lumber out of Prairie du Chien but found the nature of his trip is different.

The situation in Texas is serious, said Forbes, who has witnessed the devestation of the months-long drought that has also affected Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico. Dry conditions have led to wildfires in some cases.

"Everything's burned up," Forbes said. "The grass is brown ... It's as bad as I've ever seen it."

If the hay lift is successful, McMillin said the project may expand throughout the state. So far, he is pleased with the response from his own congregation and community.

Once Iowa farmers learned about the drought, which is reportedly one of the worst in the history of Texas, they were quick to pitch in, said Chad Davis, son of Duaine Davis.

"It went from one load to nine loads," Chad Davis said.

Luana farmers apparently didn't need much encouraging.

Duaine Davis said Texas farmers need his hay more than he does. Davis' main crops are corn and beans. He produces a little hay on the side for extra income and doesn't own any livestock.

"It's helping somebody out," said Duaine Davis said.

Donations of hay and money to alleviate transporation costs will be accepted. Drivers and trucks to transport the hay are also needed. To help, contact Rev. Harold McMillin at (563) 880-5052.

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