Farmers find drought wasn't as bad as feared Corn, soybean crops will be down slightly

September 24, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,SUN STAFF

As they work in the fields to harvest annual corn and soybean crops, Carroll County farmers are finding that the summer's dry, hot weather didn't do as much damage as some had feared.

"We're all grateful for a sufficient crop," said Richard Wilhide, a Detour dairy and grain farmer. "We know it could be a lot worse."

The county's corn yield will be about 10 percent less than last year's and the soybean crop about 14 percent less, David L. Greene, the county Cooperative Extension Service director, estimated last week. Corn and soybeans are the county's main crops.

"It hasn't been a devastating year," he said.

Rain in July came at a good time for the corn's development, Mr. Greene said. County farmers planted about 53,000 acres of corn and 20,000 acres of soybeans this year, he said.

Carroll's losses are similar to those expected statewide. Across Maryland, the corn crop is estimated to be down 13 percent from last year's, and the soybean crop is expected to be down 10 percent, said Shelly Martin, a statistician with the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service in Annapolis.

Pastures didn't fare as well as crops.

"Pastures are basically nonexistent," Mr. Greene said. "The ground is just like powder. I can never remember a time when August has been this dry."

Farmers count on alfalfa and other grasses to use as feed for their cattle during the winter. Some have had to buy feed for their animals, which is an added expense, he said.

Fruit and vegetable crops range from good to average, said John D. Myers, who farms 2,700 acres in Carroll County and southern Pennsylvania. He said last week that he was finishing the green bean harvest and was in the midst of picking apples.

"We can't complain," he said.

Although there will be some losses, this year's dry season was nowhere near as damaging as the arid summer of 1991, Mr. Greene said.

That year, Carroll lost 70 percent of its corn crop, 62 percent of its soybeans and 80 percent of its pastures. Farmers said it was the worst drought in memory.

One indication that losses are not disastrous or widespread is that no farmer had filed an insurance claim as of last week, said Kelly Hereth, acting county executive director of the federal Consolidated Farm Service Agency.

"That's a key factor," she said.

Only about 10 percent of Carroll farmers carry crop insurance, however, Ms. Hereth noted. Official estimates of county crop losses will be available later this month, she said.

August was the driest month in Carroll this year, according to data from the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service. A measuring station at the Maryland State Police barracks on Route 140 showed that the Westminster area received slightly more than half of its average rainfall in August.

The rain gauge captured 2.32 inches of rain last month. The average is 4.23 inches, agricultural statistician Carroll D. Homann said.

From March through Sept. 15, the Westminster area received 20.4 inches of rain, about 5 inches less than average for that period.

The Eastern Shore was hit hardest by the dry weather, statistics show. Salisbury received 16 inches of rain from March to mid-September, almost 10 inches below average.

Some areas in Western Maryland were more fortunate. Cumberland received almost 18.5 inches of rain in that period, about 4 inches below average.

Melvin Baile Jr., who farms with his father in Medford, said he expects their 194-acre corn crop to be 2 1/2 times what it was in 1991.

"We're having an above-average year with corn," he said.

Four years ago, they harvested about 56 bushels of corn per acre. This year, their best-producing field yielded 158 bushels, he said. An average yield is 120 bushels, he said.

Soybeans aren't doing as well. Mr. Baile said he expects the yield on their 210 acres of beans to be about three-quarters of the average. A good yield would be 55 to 60 bushels per acre; this year, he said, he expects 40 to 45 bushels.

Beans needed more rain in August, he said.

"Everything's just a matter of timing," he said. "I haven't run into a perfect season yet."

Mr. Baile is figuring crop yields this year with help from a monitor installed in his combine that measures moisture and yield as he harvests. He said he will use the information to compare field yields and corn varieties before planting next year.

Mr. Myers, whose farm is based on Old Bachmans Valley Road in Westminster, said peach and nectarine yields were 78 percent of an average year's. Several frosts in the spring killed some blooms, but the quality of the fruit was good, he said.

The green bean crop will be 60 percent to 65 percent of last year's because of the lack of rain, he said.

The summer's heat will result in an apple crop 10 percent to 15 percent below average and will affect the finish of some apples, Mr. Myers said.

More apples fall to the ground when it's hot, and the sun pulls moisture from the fruit and turns the peel brown, he said.

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