FAIR HILL -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that he will ask President Clinton today to declare much of Maryland's drought-damaged farmland a disaster area.
The governor announced his intentions yesterday while standing on the back of a red flatbed truck amid a gathering of farmers attending the Agriculture Showcase held here in conjunction with the Cecil County Fair.
The normal procedure is to wait until the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency office in the state completes its crop damage assessment report. But the governor said he would make the request first in the hope of "accelerating the process."
"We will ask for a general disaster designation," he said, "then we can go back and do a county-by-county damage assessment to see which counties are eligible" for federal relief.
A similar letter will go to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Last week, the Farm Service Agency office in Columbia reported that farmers in Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties stood to lose 50 percent, or more, of their corn crop and between 45 and 60 percent of their soybeans. At that time, it reported serious drought damage in 15 of the state's 23 counties.
State Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley, who accompanied the governor, said the drought has gotten worse over the past week, necessitating the state's request for federal assistance.
Riley said that a disaster designation could qualify farmers for low interest -- 3.5 percent -- loans from the federal government up to $500,000.
The one- to five-year loans, Riley said, would cover up to 80 percent of a farmer's crop losses. He said farmers would first have to be turned down by a conventional lender.
The governor said that drought damage varies greatly from area to area. "It's strange," he said, "in some counties the crops are destroyed in the southern part of the county and they are fine in the northern part." Such is the case in Cecil County.
While the corn and soybeans in fields surrounding the fairgrounds are tall, green and healthy, crops in the southern part of the county have suffered greatly from a lack of adequate rain.
"The drought is spotty," Paul Raech, a grain farmer from Earleville in the southern part of the county, told Glendening.
"We have gotten a half-inch of rain since June 5," Raech said. "My corn is completely shot. This is the worst drought I've ever seen." Raech said his early soybeans normally make 55 bushels per acre. "This year I will be lucky if I get 15 bushels per acre."
The double crop soybeans, planted after the harvest of winter wheat, "sprouted, but then dried up in the field when we didn't get any rain," Raech said.
Riley said last week's rains, which brought new life to lawns in the Baltimore area, passed by most of the Western Maryland farms that desperately need precipitation. "Many areas got less than a half-inch."
"The sad part of this," Riley said, "is that the most severe drought damage is in the heart of the dairy industry, which is already suffering serious financial stress because of low milk prices."
He said the drought will increase the dairy farmers' feed bills because they will be forced to purchase grain from the outside. "This is going to put them into a real price squeeze," he said.
Riley said Maryland farmers suffered serious droughts in 1993 and again in 1995 when most of the state was designated a disaster area. Last year, however, ideal growing conditions enabled farmers to harvest their best crops in 25 years.
Pub Date: 7/30/97