A year to forget for Md. farmers Corn, bean income expected to fall 34% below 5-year average

Debt-laden farms in peril

October 03, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

For the second consecutive year, Maryland farmers are going to take a big financial hit.

According to figures released yesterday by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, net farm income from soybeans and corn is expected to fall 34 percent -- or $78.8 million -- from the five-year average of $231.4 million.

The total loss from the impact of this summer's drought and low commodity prices, however, will exceed that level once the effects on livestock, tobacco, fruit and vegetables and nursery farms are totaled.

"There is no doubt about it, this is going to be another very, very rough year for Maryland farmers," state Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts said in releasing the data.

A serious drought last year was blamed for a 24 percent drop in total net farm income and was a major factor in the loss of 700 of the state's 13,700 farms.

Net farm income totaled $273.6 million last year. The estimated decline in the value of the corn and soybeans crops alone will account for another 29 percent drop in farm profits this year.

"For some farmers, this is going to be their worst year ever when you consider the drought and low prices," James Hanson, assistant director of agriculture and natural resources programs at the University of Maryland, said recently.

Robert Hutchison, who farms 4,000 acres near Cordova in Talbot County, said corn prices are the lowest they have ever been when adjusted for inflation.

The low prices come at a time when this summer's drought is being blamed for the destruction of between 30 percent and 65 percent of the corn, soybean and tobacco crops in nine Southern Maryland and lower Eastern Shore counties.

On Sept. 25, Gov. Parris N. Glendening requested federal disaster designation for Maryland farmers from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

Such a designation would qualify farmers in 16 counties for low-interest government loans and other benefits from an emergency farm aid package making its way through Congress.

"We expect approval on the disaster request anytime now," said James M. Voss, head of the Farm Service Agency office in Columbia.

Ray Garibay, the U.S. Agriculture Department statistician who estimated the decline in value of this year's corn and soybean harvests, said it was based on the impact of the drought, low commodity prices and acreage planted.

Back-to-back years of sharply reduced farm income "is going to be a real problem for many state farmers," said Kevin McNew, an economist with the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department of the University of Maryland.

"Farmers that already have a high debt level are really in trouble," McNew added. "These are tough times and they are going to push some people out of business."

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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