HALIFAX -- Farmers in the Maritimes are sending surplus feed west, as drought-like conditions have cut the winter feed supply by 90 per cent.

The question is, who should be paying for the costly shipments?

‘Hay West’, an initiative organized by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture was first launched in 2002, when Maritime farmers helped their counterparts in the Prairies who were dealing with hay shortages due to drought.

Western farmers returned the favour a decade later in 2012, by shipping surplus feed to the east coast, where Maritime farmers were dealing with extreme heat and a lack of rain.

Now, drought-like conditions have returned to Western Canada, with some saying it’s a worse situation than 20 years ago.

“They thought they might be up to a million tons of feed short, in Manitoba alone,” says Tim Marsh, President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.

Nova Scotia on the other hand has seen a high yield for forage crops this summer.

Speaking from his farm in Poplar Grove, N.S., Marsh says some farmers are on their fourth cuts, and are now sending any surplus to the Prairies.

“We’ve got a good 10,000 or so of the big, round bales being on offer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that doubled or tripled.”

Marsh says one round bale of hay will feed eight to 10 adult cows a day.

While farmers out West are grateful for the hay stimulus, concerns remain that whatever they get, still won’t be enough.

“I think feed is going to be in short supply, and producers might find themselves caught short with feed,” says Stuart Dodds, provincial supervisor of the Alberta SPCA.

“The problem is, they’re going to have to make decisions about reducing herd numbers, because you can’t let these animals starve.”

There is also the question of who will pay for the shipping costs.

Marsh says the cost of shipping enough feed from East to West is between $6-million to $10-million, and the federal government should be footing the bill.

“This is a national food security issue,” says Marsh. “The entire idea with taking hay west, is to protect a few of the cow herds, because if you can maintain some of the breeding stock out there, then they’ve got a chance to rebuild again in the next couple years. Once those cows go, you’re looking at another couple of years to rebuild.”

That’s why Maritime farmers are now stepping in to help, just like they did 20 years ago.

“We’ve sent five bales through the Canadian Federation of Agriculture already,” says Greg Morrow, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Agriculture.

That shipment was paid for by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

In an emailed statement to CTV Atlantic, P.E.I.’s Minister of Agriculture says the province is covering the cost of their first three shipments.