Fear Of Another Drought Shadows Spring Planting

April 12, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

County farmers are fixing wheels on their tractors, plowing fields, buying fertilizer -- and trying to be optimistic.

It's a farmer's occupational duty to be sanguine if it's spring, but some say it's harder after last year's ravaging drought.

"Everybody's really concerned about another year like last year, because they know how devastating it can be," Medford farmer Melvin Baile Jr. said.

Many county farmers will begin planting corn and soybeans at the end of the month, Extension Agent Thomas Ford said. Some sweet-corn growers who want to sell at early season farmers marketsalready have seeds in the ground, he said.

Some farmers are planning for another dry year by planting corn and soybean varieties that do well in dry weather, Ford said.

"A lot of farmers cannot affordto take another hit in the pocketbook," he said.

County growers lost about $17.4 million in last year's drought, which many said was the worst in memory.

The dry weather devastated 70 percent of the county's corn crop, 80 percent of its pastureland and 62 percent of its soybeans.

The average yield per acre last year for corn -- Carroll's largest crop -- was 65 bushels, as compared with 113 bushels in 1990, according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

Baile said that barley and wheat he and his father planted in the fallis not half the size it should be now because of a lack of moisture and fluctuating temperatures.

It was warm in the winter and cold last month when it should have been milder, he said.

His father said, "Down deep, this ground is dry."

Farmers will appreciate the rain whenever it comes.

"We don't care when it rains, just so long as we get it," Melvin Baile Sr. said.

Rainfall in the growing season of March through October was almost 11 inches below normal last year in Carroll, the statistics service reported.

Through March of this year, 8.3 inches of rain fell in the county -- almost 1 1/2 inchesbelow normal, the service reported.

Last year, rainfall was about3 inches below normal at this time.

March was the first month this year in which rainfall was above normal levels. The county received4.86 inches, 1.16 inches more than usual.

The "Old Farmer's Almanac" for 1992 predicts that the weather along the Middle Atlantic Coast will be slightly warmer than normal during April through June.

"Precipitation should be frequent but lighter than normal during April, while May will be stormy with heavy rains offset by a very dry June," the almanac predicts.

Rainfall will be slightly above normal during the summer months, it says.

The book's weather predictions are accurate 65 percent to 70 percent of the time, said Richard Head, the almanac's forecaster since 1970 and a former lecturer at the JohnsHopkins University in Baltimore.

Gaither farmer William E. Schneider predicted this year will be drier than normal but not as dry as last year.

"It's just my gut feeling," he said.

He and his son, Andy, plant sweet corn, vegetables and alfalfa on about 140 acres without tilling the ground in order to conserve moisture, he said.

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