Farmers live with a lot of uncertainty. They never know what Mother Nature will do, and they're never sure what price their crops will bring.
But despite the unknowns, one thing is for sure -- if it's spring, farmers brim with optimism.
"This has got to be everybody's favorite time of year," said Esther Mercer, whose family farms in South Carroll.
"We're getting spring fever down here," she said.
This is when the long days and short nights of the planting season stretch ahead. Winter chores are finished, equipment has been repaired and supplies have been purchased. Farmers have pored over records and decided what to plant.
Lush green fields of corn and soybeans are just a picture in their mind's eye. But the tractors are ready, and the farmers are eager to get on with their work.
Most will begin planting April 20, said David Greene, acting director of the Carroll County Extension Service.
Medford farmer Melvin Baile Sr. said he was working outside Monday "enjoying the beautiful sunny weather."
When days are like this, Baile said, he likes to be as comfortable as possible in the fields. Monday, he said he was wearing just "plain old Bermuda shorts. . . . I'm starting to get a little red around the fringes."
He and his son, Melvin Jr., were spreading liquid nitrogen fertilizer on fields that had been planted with wheat and barley last fall.
If the weather stays warm and sunny, they'll begin planting corn in about two weeks, he said. They plan to plant 140 acres of corn and 250 acres of soybeans this year.
Corn is the No. 1 crop planted in the county, followed bysoybeans.
Last year, Carroll farmers planted 54,000 acres of corn, said Carroll D. Homann, an state agriculture statistician. The amount of soybeans planted last year hasn't been calculated yet, he said,but in 1989, Carroll farmers planted 15,100 acres of the crop.
After suffering through several droughts in the late 1980s, farmers were rewarded last year with a bumper crop.
Normal weather is forecasted for the next six weeks, Greene said.
Homann said state recordsshow rainfall in Carroll was about 3 inches below normal for Januarythrough March. The county got 6.9 inches of rain in the first three months of the year; 9.86 inches is normal for that period, state records show.
But farmers probably aren't worried yet, Homann said.
"The weather from now on is what will make or break the crop," he said.
Because of the fairly mild winter, "there's plenty of moisturein the ground," Baile said.
The ground did not freeze more than acouple of inches down this winter, allowing moisture to saturate thesoil, he said.
"The moisture is down deep into the ground, and that's good," Baile said.
The "Old Farmer's Almanac" for 1991 predicts that spring on the Middle Atlantic Coast will be cooler and wetterthan normal and that summer will bring close to normal temperatures.
The book says the average temperature this month will be 58 degrees.
"Several hot spells are expected in July, but August will be slightly cool, with frequent showers, until a heat wave arrives at month's end," it says.
The Middle Atlantic Coast includes Maryland, Virginia and parts of Delaware and Pennsylvania.
In January, Upperco farmer Clarence Mielke was worried about the prices his family would receive for the corn and soybeans they would plant this spring.
This week, however, things were looking up.
"At this point, I'd bemore optimistic than negative. Prices have moved up for corn and beans, and we're getting more enthused," he said.
"It's at the point where we can start making money and not just break even," Mielke said.
Mielke farms with his brothers, Clarence and George, at Trenton Mill Farms. They plan to plant 1,500 acres of corn and 1,800 acres ofsoybeans, he said.
Mielke said he enjoys the change of seasons all year but especially likes spring.
"I like being able to get outdoors. In the winter, you're kind of penned in. I enjoy the fresh air and sunshine," he said.
His day now begins at about 6 a.m. and lasts until about 10 p.m., Mielke said. Monday evening, he and his son were loading last year's grain crop to haul out to sell.
When the family begins planting, their days will be two to three hours longer,Mielke said.
"The days are going to get longer from here on out,"he said.