CENTREVILLE -- Despite the rains of the past few days, the hot and dry summer will likely rob Maryland farmers of 25 percent to 30 percent of their income this year, state Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said yesterday.
"That's a ballpark guess," said Riley, who predicted that some counties would fare much worse.
"The situation is disastrous in Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties," he told members of the Maryland Grain Producers Association at their annual meeting in Centreville, Queen Anne's County. Farmers in those counties, he said, "have tremendous losses."
Riley said the recent rain will help turn pastures green again and will pump new life into dwarfed soybean plants, but it comes too late to help the corn.
He predicted that 80 percent of the corn grown in the three western counties would die for lack of moisture.
Because of their normally low operating margins, Riley said, most Maryland farmers don't have drought insurance.
The weather was on the minds of most farmers attending yesterday's meeting.
Melvin Baile Jr., president of the grain association, asked fellow farmers how much rain they got the night before as they gathered at the Queen Anne's County 4-H Park during yesterday's showers.
The responses varied from two-tenths of an inch to nearly half an inch, and the farmers agreed that was not enough to break the drought.
"This is going to be a loss year," said Drew Stabler, who farms 4,000 acres near Laytonsville in Montgomery County.
Riley said he measured 1 1/2 inches of rain at his farm in Wicomico County yesterday morning. "That's 4 inches over the past couple of days," he said.
Last year was a good one for Maryland grain farmers. The corn harvest averaged a record 139 bushels per acre. Soybeans also set a record, averaging 37 bushels per acre.
And Maryland farmers benefited from high grain prices last year. "There is no doubt about it, last year was a career year," said Robert Hutchison who farms 4,000 acres near Cordova in Talbot County.
It's a different story this year. In addition to the drought, farmers are feeling the pinch of lower grain prices.
The price of corn on the Eastern Shore has ranged between $2.61 and $2.91 a bushel in recent weeks, down from about $4 last year, said M. Bruce West, chief statistician at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Soybean prices have dropped to $7.27 a bushel from $8 a year ago.
Pub Date: 7/25/97