Heat Humbles Animals, Crops Into Lethargy

July 28, 1991|By Greg Tasker and Ed McDonough | Greg Tasker and Ed McDonough,Staff writers

DETOUR — The ladies at Myron Wilhide's dairy farm are feeling the heat. And even though they're being fanned and sprinkled with water, milk production is down 20 percent. Generally, each of the 160 Holsteins produce60 pounds of milk a day. These days, it's 48 pounds.

"The heat iskilling them," said Wilhide, who operates a 600-acre farm in north western Carroll. "They're standing around with their tongues hanging out. We're fanning them and watering them but they're still hurting."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer on Friday asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan to qualify Carroll and seven other counties forfederal disaster aid.

As of Friday, the Westminster area had received only one inch of rain this month. The average for July is four inches. Westminster has received 14.9 inches of rainfall so far in 1991; the normal average for the first seven months is 25.26 inches.

"There's no question about the damage. It's there," Schaefer said while inspecting drought-stressed crops on Jesse and Cathy Burall's 1,000-acre farm in the Frederick County community of Monrovia, just over the county line.

If the counties receive the disaster designation,farmers will be eligible for low-interest loans from the Farmers Home Administration. The 4.5 percent interest loans would cover portionsof losses up to $500,000. The designation also could trigger standbyfederal aid.

Bush administration officials have said disaster aidfor farmers won't be available for a few isolated weather problems, but Representative Beverly B. Byron said she felt Maryland, dependingon how many counties are included in the state's disaster area, willqualify for federal assistance.

"These communities feeling a heavy impact by the drought have been devastated," she said.

A similarappeal for disaster designation from the Maryland Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Services office could provide assistance from two other federal programs: permission for farmers to use set-aside acreage for emergency haying and grazing, and to buy feed for livestock at reduced prices.

The ASCS office had requested disaster assistance for six counties, also including Carroll, and has estimated that initial drought losses in Maryland will exceed $57 million. The USDA is expected to act upon both requests within a week, state officials said.

Elizabeth Schaeffer, executive director of Carroll's ASCS office, said countywide estimates show a loss of about 75 percent of the pasture, 50 percent of the corn and mixed hay, and about 33 percent of the alfalfa and soybeans. Total estimated county losses thus far are about $12 million.

While dairy farmers are suffering, it is grain farmers like Melvin Baile Jr. of New Windsor who have been hit hardest.

At Baile's Brookside Farms, the soybeans, planted abouttwo weeks ago, resemble skeletons of plants. Others have achieved runt-like growth. Some plants grew but died in the heat.

"It's bad,"said the 30-year-old, who farms more than 600 acres with his father in the Wakefield Valley. "What our losses are going to be remains to be seen. There's no way we're going to get out of crops what we put into them. It's just horrible."

His soybeans have a chance to recover if enough rain comes. His late-planted corn and hay, however, havesustained severe damage. Baile said his hay yield was only 45 percent to 50 percent of what it should have been.

This year is a doublewhammy for many farmers. Besides contending with the drought, Baile will encounter lower prices for grain because of the good growing season of the grain-rich Midwest.

"The only real help for us is if rain stalls over the valley for several days," Baile said. "It wouldn'tbe a cure-all. It wouldn't give us a 100 percent yield, but it wouldhelp us a little bit."

Baile said his family will make it throughthe year by restructuring any debt over three to seven years. Some farmers, he said, might take out second mortgages.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see a number of farmers voluntarily sell out of the business," Baile said. "Other than being a farmer, the only person I wouldn't want to trade places with is a farm lender. They're going to be getting the same story from everyone."

Wayne Horner estimates the drought has damaged 50 percent of his sweet corn yield at his 250-acreSpring Meadows Farms. If significant rainfall doesn't come within a few weeks, he says the loss could be up to 75 percent.

"It's getting depressing," said Horner. "We don't need that much rain. If we getan inch and it cooled down, and an inch in another week or so and itcooled down, we would have pretty good crops."

Besides growing corn, Spring Meadows Farms, near Hampstead, also grows cantaloupes, tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and pumpkins. The bulk of produce is soldat a roadside market on the Hanover Pike near Upperco.

Horner estimated the heat and dry weather damaged about 10 percent to 15 percent of the vegetable and fruit crop, despite irrigation.

"We haven'tstarted picking yet," he said. "I'm just guessing.

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