A NORWEGIAN man has driven hundreds of kilometres across Europe to plead for free hay as horses and goats in the Vega Baja are set to a face a ‘famine’ of forage feed.

Rune Knutsen yesterday drove for 22 hours from his native Norway all the way to Villach, Austria, to ask farmers to donate forage in support of farmers, riding stables and rescue centres in the flood-hit region of Alicante.

It comes as ‘90%’ of the region’s alfalfa crop was decimated during last week’s catastrophic weather, according to an industry source.

HELPING HAND: Knutsen has driven from Norway to Austria to Germany in search of hay

“The situation could be bad,” Knutsen, 52, told the Olive Press.

“Horses will develop illnesses if they don’t get any forage feed.

“A lot of bales in Spain have now become rotten from the rain – this is why it’s such a big crisis.”

CRITICAL: Horse sanctuary Easy Care Horse Rescue Centre in Rojales has just ‘six weeks’ of forage left and no further supplies in sight

Knutsen works as a physiotherapist with Equine Therapy in Norway, but has visited countries such as Bosnia and Croatia during similar crises.

He said catastrophic flooding in 2014 in Bosnia saw ‘sick horses roaming around everywhere’ due to a chronic lack of forage feed.

“The same could happen in Spain,” he said.

Knutsen has now driven from Austria, to Munich, to Frankfurt and Cologne in search of hay.

DEVASTATION: Up to ‘90%’ of the Vega Baja region’s alfalfa harvest has been ruined

He says he has guaranteed a ‘lorry load’ donated for free by concerned farmers as he now searches for a truck to drive the emergency feed down to the Vega Baja.

Kind-hearted farmers have agreed to supply ‘one lorry load’ every month for three months – but Knutsen says funds from well-wishers mean he may be able to send more feed more regularly to alleviate the crisis.

It comes as co-owner of the Rojales-based Easy Care Horse Rescue Centre – and Olive Press columnist – Susan Weeding fears ‘a nightmare’ is about to happen.

She said she only has enough forage for ‘maximum six weeks’ to feed to the 140 rescued horses and donkeys in her care.

FLOODED: Susan and Rod Weeding at the Easy Care Horse Rescue Centre were up ‘all night’ pumping out water following storms that hit last Thursday

“There’s no alfalfa in the Vega Baja and companies that store it have been flooded out,” Weeding told the Olive Press.

“There is going to be a serious problem with everyone that owns horses and donkeys – in all of this crazy weather, there’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

An industry source, who did not want to be named, said he lost his 30ha crop of alfalfa as the storms destroyed ‘between 80% to 90%’ of the Vega Baja’s harvest.

He estimated 500ha of alfalfa have been destroyed in the region that supplies parts of Murcia and Almería with forage.

“There’s going to be nothing here until we plant next spring,” he said.

VITAL: Horses and donkeys require forage feed or they quickly fall ill

Carlos Corts, who owns Covaza Nutrición Equina, was more optimistic about the situation however.

“Alfalfa is not only grown in the Vega Baja,” Corts told the Olive Press from his factory in the region.

“There’s a huge amount in Albacete – I’ve already had one quote and will hope to secure a supply soon.”

Alfalfa has a big export market outside of Spain, meaning Corts will have to compete with foreign prices.

“I’m sure we will find a way out of this,” he said.

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