Summertime drought drags into autumn Weekend rain brings some relief, though temporary

Central Md. hardest hit

Through September, rainfall is 10.6 inches below normal in 1997

October 21, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Light rain over the weekend brought some relief to area farmers, but the summer's severe drought has continued into the fall.

Weather forecasts predicted 2 inches of rain for the weekend, but the recorded rainfall in Carroll was only .61 inches, according to Larry Myers, a weather observer in Westminster.

"It helps on the surface, but nothing has gone into the ground to help water tables or anything with a root system to it," said Nona Schwartzbeck, who with her husband, Joe, operates a dairy farm in Union Bridge.

Still, Mrs. Schwartzbeck said the surface soaking might do some good.

"It should get the wheat out of the grain, I hope," she said.

What has been called the worst drought to hit Western Maryland farms in three decades has left farmers in Frederick and Washington counties facing crop losses as high as 70 percent.

Many farmers have been forced to sell off their livestock at low prices because of a lack of feed.

Typically, severe droughts are followed by periods of average rainfall, said David L. Greene, an agent in agricultural science with the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service.

Unfortunately, that trend has not held true this year.

"Usually, at the end of August and by September, you kind of get things going again," Greene said.

"But over the last two months now, the rainfall has been very, very reduced," he said.

Central Maryland has been the hardest hit by the drought, said Carroll D. Homann, an agricultural statistician with the state Department of Agriculture.

According to data through September, rainfall is 10.6 inches below normal for the year in Carroll, 10.5 inches below normal in Baltimore County, 9.4 inches below normal in Harford, 8.6 inches below normal in Howard and 6 inches below normal in Anne Arundel.

Germinating crops

Greene said the southern and eastern parts of the state haven't been as dry.

Anne-Meredith Howes, an agricultural science agent in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, said farmers in the areas welcomed last weekend's rains.

She said they're in the process of putting in cover crops, such as rye, over the tobacco fields to absorb nutrients.

"This will help get them germinated," Howes said.

Meanwhile in Carroll County, Mrs. Schwartzbeck lamented the lack of rain.

'It doesn't rain here'

"It rains all around us, but it doesn't rain here," she said. "We were at a wedding on the Eastern Shore over the weekend and water was laying in the fields," Mrs. Schwartzbeck said.

In Carroll, Myers recorded a total rainfall of 19.44 inches this year. An average rainfall would be 38 inches to 44 inches by the end of October.

"That shows you how much we're behind," Myers said. "We're really dry."

Small grains jeopardized

The lack of rain over the past two months has jeopardized the viability of small grains, such as barley and wheat, Greene said.

The drought devastated the hay harvest, and many farmers planted small grains to use for livestock feed next spring.

"The other thing is that the pastures didn't come back nearly as much as we had hoped," said Greene, who estimated that there are 25,000 acres of pasture in Carroll.

"That affects everybody, whether you have a few horses, goats or sheep -- all those animals that graze."

He said drought-affected areas need several days of rain so the soil can absorb enough water to store through the winter.

"What will really be bad is if we go through a winter with very little moisture," Greene said.

"Then we could be setting ourselves up for another disaster."

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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