Grain farmers anxious for rain 'Do or die this week' for parched corn crop, Md. group's chief says

Agriculture

July 21, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

For the second year in a row, Maryland grain farmers are sweating out a threat of heat and drought damage to their crops.

"The heat, it's a big-time concern for farmers throughout the state," Melvin Baile Jr., president of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, said yesterday after unloading a wagon of hay with the mercury in the 90s.

He said the corn crop is on the brink of ruin and that "it's do or die this week as far as moisture goes." Baile grows corn, wheat and soybeans on 700 acres outside New Windsor.

Baile said much of the state's corn crop is in a critical stage of pollination. High temperatures can hinder the process, resulting in a sharp decline in yields.

"If the temperatures stay in the 80s during the night, corn doesn't pollinate properly," he said. "Corn is already showing signs of drought stress."

The leaves are turning from a dark green to a more bluish-green and curling up in a cigar shape in an attempt to conserve moisture.

Baile said conditions aren't as bad as they were at this time last year, when drought de- stroyed 60 percent of Central Maryland's corn crop and cost farmers $147 million in lost income.

Adding to the farmers' concern are the low prices they are being offered. Ray Garibay, chief statistician with the state Department of Agriculture, said soybean prices are 22.2 percent lower than they were a year ago and that corn prices are off 14 percent.

"We wouldn't be nearly as concerned about a drop in our yield if we were looking at $4 corn for delivery this fall," Baile said. "But a drop in your yield at these prices [$2.53 a bushel] will be disastrous."

James Voss, director of the Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, said he has noticed signs of weather-related stress on cornfields as he travels about the state.

"It's nothing like last year," Voss said, "but if we don't get a good rain in the next week or two, many farmers will be in trouble. It's crucial that we get some rain soon."

As president of the grain association, Baile said, he has had discussions with other grain growers in Southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore and in the central part of the state in recent days. "It's the same no matter who you talk to," he said. "Nobody is optimistic."

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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