'97 better than first thought for Md. farmers Drought took toll, but some figures exceed expectations

January 14, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Drought-plagued 1997 was not a good year for Maryland farmers, but it ended up slightly better than earlier estimated, according to figures released yesterday by the state Department of Agriculture.

The department's Agricultural Statistics Service said that the yield of corn for grain was 90 bushels per acre, a 12.5 percent increase above state estimates of 80 bushels in November.

Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association Inc., cited more normal weather patterns on the lower Eastern Shore as a reason for the higher than expected corn production.

"It was not a record harvest," Hoot said, "but many farmers on the Eastern Shore had good harvests last year."

Based on comments from farmers, she said that many growers in the region reported corn yields ranging between 120 and 130 bushels per acre. In Wicomico County, she said, some corn growers harvested between 140 and 150 bushels per acre.

The state average of 90 bushels per acre was the lowest since 1993, when a drought hit Eastern Shore farms particularly hard and reduced the average corn yield to 78 bushels an acre.

Last year's 90 bushels per acre compared with a record 139 bushels set in 1996, when farmers had near-perfect growing conditions.

"Even farmers in Carroll County were pleasantly surprised," said Hoot.

She said some farmers there harvested 40 bushels per acre instead of the 30 they anticipated.

The Statistics Service raised its estimate of the soybean yield from 27 bushels to 28, a gain of 3.7 percent.

That would still be 9 bushels below the average yield in 1996.

Total soybean production amounted to 14.7 million bushels, 17.2 percent less than in 1996.

Last summer's drought took a heavy toll on the alfalfa hay crop. Production is estimated at 144,000 tons, 49 percent smaller than the 1996 crop.

Southern Maryland tobacco growers had an average yield of 1,500 pounds, up 20 percent from the previous year's yield of 1,250 pounds per acre.

In August, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman declared much of Maryland's drought-damaged farmland a disaster area, clearing the way for farmers in 17 counties to qualify for low-interest loans from the federal government.

State officials have estimated that last year's drought will reduce farm income by about 40 percent, or about $147 million statewide.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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