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WILMINGTON, North Carolina (Reuters) - Canadian hay began arriving in North Carolina on Monday to help farmers feed cattle and horses in the drought-stricken state, the broker who arranged the shipment said.
The shipment was the first of 36 truckloads purchased by the state's agriculture department from farms near Perth, Ontario, about 50 miles southwest of Ottawa, said Don Westbrook, the owner of Mid-Atlantic Hay Co.
Announcing the purchase on December 20, the N.C. Department of Agriculture said it was the initial buy under a $3.5 million program to provide emergency supplies livestock owners can tap to prevent the forced sale of horses and cattle.
The U.S. Southeast is in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record, prompting water-use restrictions and forcing the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama to work on a water-sharing agreement.
North Carolina farmers have lost roughly half of the state's normal hay crop, according to a study by Dr. Ed Estes of North Carolina State University.
In estimates prepared for the state, he valued the hay loss at $91 million and the total loss of North Carolina crops due to the draught at $382 million.
Using an economic impact multiplier of about 1.5 for agriculture production, Estes estimated the lost crops cost the state's economy $573 million in 2007.
As a result, hay prices have skyrocketed and some owners have been forced to give up their horses to animal rescue agencies.
The Canadian hay will be resold to farmers at six locations across the state in the first two weeks of January and the revenue will be used to buy more hay, the department said.
Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long said it was uncertain how much hay would be bought.
"There's no real target," he said, adding the department would "keep going as long as (the farmers) scarf it up."
Livestock owners who import their own hay from out of state will be reimbursed up to $500 per truck load for shipping costs, the department said.
Editing by Jim Loney, editing by Richard Chang