Drought Did In 70 Percent Of Carroll's Corn Crop

County's Damage Ranks No. 2 In State, U.s. Estimates

September 08, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

The arid summer devastated 70 percent of the county's corn crop, dried 80 percent of its pastureland and destroyed 62 percent of its soybeans.

Frederick is the only county in the state that has lost more, federal crop damage estimates show.

Carroll farmers say the drought is the worst in memory.

Manchester farmer Richard L. Moser said if federal aid were not available and if he hadn't planted a second crop of corn late in the summer, he would be out of business next year.

Moser, 42, farms about 250 acres and milks 135 cows. He normally harvests 16 to 18 tons of corn peracre; this year some fields have yielded only 4 tons, he said.

Corn is the county's main cash crop.

Edmund H. Dutterer, a grain andbeef farmer in Frizzelburg, said he will lose about $92,000. He normally harvests 130 bushels of corn per acre and expects to get 60 thisyear. He farms 480 acres and expects a bushel to sell for $2.75.

"It's unreal," he said. "The corn's done. We can't improve the corn crop."

Dutterer's wife works as an accountant, which gives the family a buffer, but the losses will put a dent in their savings for their oldest child's college education, he said.

The county's losses are 20 percent to 30 percent higher than in 1988, the last time the area experienced a drought, said Elizabeth A. Schaeffer, county executive director of the U.S. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.

Rain that fell late last week will help crops planted latein the summer but won't save any crops, farmers said. Rainfall in the county for the first eight months of this year was about 10 inches below the 22-inch norm, records show.

Most Carroll farmers will stay in business, but some will have to borrow more money than usual next year, said William D. Schrodel, senior loan officer for Central Maryland Farm Credit in Westminster.

"By and large, farmers in this area are in good condition and will be able to weather this," he said.

David L. Greene, interim county extension director, said farmerswho raise livestock will have to borrow more. They lost their corn crop, which they had planned to use to feed their animals, so they will have to borrow to buy feed and supplies for next year, he said.

County farmers will lose at least $17.4 million this year, ASCS estimated.

The Maryland Agriculture Statistics Service listed the salesvalue of all agricultural products from the county at $57.9 million for 1987, the latest year for which numbers are available.

The County Emergency Board, whose members include farmers and officials fromfederal agricultural agencies, estimated losses for county crops in mid-August. The estimates are used to determine eligibility for federal aid programs, Schaeffer said.

On Aug. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared Carroll and 17 other counties drought disasterareas. This means farmers are eligible for low-interest loans and emergency feed programs.

In addition to corn, pasture and soybean losses, the county board estimated that the oat crop is down 50 percent, alfalfa hay is down 55 percent and other hay down 60 percent.

ASCS officials in Frederick estimate that 75 percent of the corn crop is lost. As of July, Frederick County farmers had lost $18.2 million.

Parts of Carroll had drier weather than others, but no farmers arelikely to have even an average crop, Greene said. Conditions varied from one part of the county to another and even from farm to farm, hesaid.

An average yield for corn is 100 bushels per acre, he said.Most farmers probably will get 65 to 70 bushels this year, he said.

South Carroll received a bit more rain than areas north and west of Westminster, which were hardest hit, he said.

Woodbine farmer Harold Mercer said he was surprised by comments from other farmers.

"I thought they (my crops) were terrible until everybody told me how good my fields look," he said.

Mercer, who planted 1,550 acres of corn and 1,100 acres of soybeans, expects his crop to be down about 30 percent. His wheat yield, which was harvested by mid-July, was normal, he said.

Moser said federal aid will help him feed his cows this winter. Moser, a farmer for 21 years, said some farmers ignore federal aid because of the paperwork.

"If you have good records, it'snot too hard to do," he said.

Consumers often criticize the aid and call it a handout.

"It does benefit the consumer in the long run because it's intended to stabilize the markets," Moser said.

Blaine A. Harman, a 28-year-old Taneytown dairy farmer, will lose two-thirds of his corn, but is one of the few county farmers with the safety net of crop insurance.

He almost canceled the policy in the spring to save a few dollars. The insurance guarantees payment for 65 percent of his normal yield.

Only about 5 percent of county farmers carry the insurance because they don't think the return justifies the cost, Schaeffer said.

In 1988, Harman said he sold his Ford EXP topay his debts. This year, he has a larger herd and more debt becauseof building improvements he started.

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