Maryland farmers, already suffering with a crippling drought, received more bad news yesterday when the federal government forecast bumper crops for the nation, which are likely to hold down prices.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated there will be huge declines in crop production in Maryland.
"This is not going to be a good year for Maryland farmers," said Kevin McNew, an economist with the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department of the University of Maryland, College Park.
The state's corn crop is expected to yield an average of only 85 bushels per acre -- 54 bushels an acre lower than last year, according a survey released by the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.
In its first forecast of the fall harvest, the Statistics Service predicted soybean yields averaging 29 bushels an acre, nearly 22 percent lower than last year's record crop of 37 bushels per acre.
The crop report is based on field conditions as of Aug. 1.
McNew said weather conditions here and elsewhere have combined to hit Maryland farmers with a double whammy this year: small harvests and lower prices resulting from bumper crops in the Midwest.
For the nation as a whole, farmers will reap their largest soybean harvest ever, a mammoth 2.74 billion bushels, according the USDA.
Soybean yields are estimated at 39.3 bushels an acre, while the
U.S. corn crop is expected to total 9.28 billion bushels, about the same as last year, as farmers reap 125.3 bushels of corn from each acre planted. This would make it the fourth largest crop on record.
"Although we are going to have small harvests, we don't see any price increases for Maryland grain farmers," said state Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley. "There is a good supply of grain nationally and this is going to keep prices down."
Riley said Maryland's net farm income will fall at least 30 percent, or about $110 million, as a result of drought damage that has been most severe in the central part of the state.
M. Bruce West, head of the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service, said corn prices have been running between $2.75 and $3 a bushel this year, down from $4 to $4.25 last year.
Soybeans have dropped to $7.25 a bushel from $8.60 a bushel in the spring, he said.
The situation in Maryland this year is just the opposite of last year's, when farmers benefited from a rare combination of big crops and high grain prices. As a result, net farm income jumped 75.7 percent last year to $368.4 million from $209.7 million in 1995.
Although state consumers will be paying higher prices for some locally grown fruits and vegetables at roadside markets, the big national crop should help stabilize food prices across the country, McNew said.
The Agriculture Department has forecast that food prices will climb 2.8 percent in 1997, based on abundant crops and expansion in meat supplies. Last year, low inventories of wheat and corn helped drive up food prices by 3.3 percent, the largest rise this decade.
James A. Voss, executive director of the USDA's Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, said he was "a little surprised" by the state's crop forecast. "I think their numbers are a little high," he said.
He said there are some counties where corn yields will be less than 20 bushels an acre. "At some farms," he added, "it will be zero."
The drought, which began in mid-June, has been most severe in Carroll, Washington, Frederick, Kent and Queen Anne's counties.
Conditions there contrast sharply with those on the lower Eastern Shore, where farms have received adequate rain and the corn harvest is expected to yield a normal 100 to 120 bushels an acre, Voss said.
In other parts of the state, "conditions continue to deteriorate day by day" and, without rain in the future, losses will be even greater, Voss said .
The state survey showed that Maryland farmers had better winter wheat and barley harvests this year than last. Those crops, West said, were harvested in late June and early July before the shortage of rain caused serious damage to them.
Pub Date: 8/13/97