BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) – The geography of eastern Kentucky is defined by its mountains, but a key feature of the area’s economy is entrenched in the river valleys which span those ranges.
“We have a tremendous amount of people in eastern Kentucky who farm,” said Arch Sebastian, president of the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association. “Whether that be hogs or chickens or horses, cattle.”
Sebastian says many of those farmers lived off the very same land which was swept away by last month’s flooding.
“The reason why it’s devastating to agriculture in that area is that most of our best land is going to be in those low-lying areas,” said Jimmy Henning, a professor at the UK College of Agriculture.
Henning works in the Plant and Soil Sciences department, and says that livestock and hay are two of the driving forces on the region’s agricultural balance sheet. But the floods have washed away some of these animals and jeopardized the production of both.
“A lot of these folks for getting ready to start their second cutting of hay when this storm happened,” Sebastian said. “So now they have no pastures to cut.”
Hundreds of hayfields in this region that have been rendered unworkable by the inches to feet of silt and sediment that has settled here. Sebastian says even the green growth which has persisted and sprouts up through the brown mud still holds no value because if it’s harvested, the livestock would refuse to eat it.
Henning says depending on what’s been deposited there, it could impact future crop production as well.
“You’ve got a physical problem, you’ve got to remove it or let the plants that survive grow up through it,” Henning said.
These farmers also suffered losses to critical infrastructure like coops and fencing, so the cattlemen’s association is gathering hundreds of thousands of pounds of feed and other supplies.
Sebastian worries the loss may lead some to leave the region altogether.
“What you’re going to wind up with is you’re going to lose people in the agriculture business,” said Sebastian. “Some of these people have been hit here twice in the last 16 or 18 months.”
He hopes this support will continue to come in and will help local farmers decide to stay.
Sebastian says farmers in need of feed or other donated products should get in touch with their local cooperative extension service.
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