Drought toll on crops studied Agency seeks data to assess Md. farmers for U.S. disaster aid


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

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Maryland Emergency Board has begun a statewide evaluation of crop damage from this summer's drought to determine whether farmers will qualify for federal disaster relief.

James M. Voss, head of the emergency board and executive director of the federal Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, said drought damage assessment reports are being prepared for each county.

The emergency board is scheduled to meet next Friday to evaluate the reports and determine whether losses are substantial enough for the panel to recommend to Gov. Parris N. Glendening that the farmers be given relief benefits.

The governor would then request disaster relief from President Clinton or U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

Voss said he initiated the surveys because he knew farms in parts of the state had serious crop losses.

"I can clearly say this is not a statewide problem," he said. "Western Maryland seems to be in pretty good shape, but there are parts of the state, primarily the lower Eastern Shore, where there are serious problems."

David Almquist, a University of Maryland Cooperative Extension agent in Talbot County, said, "Some parts of the county have been hit real hard by the drought.

"We are looking at 30 to 40 percent loss of the corn crop. The corn is at the point of no return.

"No matter how much rain we get from here on, that corn is lost."

He said soybean farmers face losses ranging from 10 percent to 20 percent of their crops and that half of the corn for silage has been destroyed by the hot, dry weather.

"If we don't get some more rain, we are going to lose a lot more soybeans," Almquist said.

Tony Evans, the Maryland Department of Agriculture's representative on the emergency board, said a county will have to show at least a 30 percent loss of a major crop to qualify for disaster relief.

"I'm sure there are individual farms that have suffered that much loss," he said, "but whether or not the whole county suffered the same level of loss, I don't know."

Based on sketchy information, Evans said it appears that the drought has harmed farms in Caroline, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester counties the most.

This is the second consecutive year that Maryland farmers have been troubled by a shortage of rain.

Last summer's drought, one of the worst in decades, resulted in federal disaster designations for 17 of Maryland's 23 counties.

Western Maryland counties bore the brunt of last year's drought. Frederick County reported an 80 percent loss of its corn crop and a 60 percent loss of soybeans; in Carroll County, 63 percent of the corn was destroyed and 60 percent of soybeans.

The state Agriculture Department estimated that last year's drought cost state farmers $147 million in lost income.

A federal disaster designation would qualify farmers for low-interest government loans.

There could be additional financial assistance this year. On Wednesday, President Clinton signed legislation allowing farmers suffering from low prices and natural disasters to collect up to $5.5 billion in transition payments -- payments not to plant -- earlier than usual.

The payments are usually made in two steps, the first half in December or January and the remainder in September. This year, farmers can collect the full sum beginning Oct. 1.

Glickman said the droughts in the South and Southwest will form the basis for a new recommendation to Congress for a broad emergency aid package expected to top $1 billion.

Voss said the legislation could result in direct payments to farmers reporting major crop damage.

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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