Md. farm outlook still grim Low prices await drought-shrunk crops of corn and soybeans

October 10, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its latest forecasts on the fall harvest yesterday, and there was nothing comforting in the numbers for Maryland grain farmers suffering through a second consecutive year of serious drought.

"Nothing has changed," said Ray Garibay, the USDA's statistician for Maryland. "Corn is still forecast at 100 bushels" per acre.

Although that would represent a slight gain from last year, it would still be 28 percent lower than the 139 bushels per acre farmers reaped in 1996, their last nondrought year.

Maryland's soybean harvest is forecast at 26 bushels per acre, zTC down from 28 bushels an acre last year.

When harvesting is completed, this year's soybean yield is expected to be 33 percent lower than that of 1996.

"It's not a bright picture for our farmers," said state Agricul-

ture Secretary Henry A. Virts. "The drought has destroyed crops in the field; prices are down for corn and soybeans; and the international market has gone to hell."

Last week, the department estimated that 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.

Virts said yesterday that the financial impact of poor crops and low prices will not be limited to the farms.

"The spin-off is going to impact every rural section of the state," he said.

"Wherever farmers do business. It's going to hit the farm equipment dealers, restaurants, clothing and furniture stores and the grocery stores."

9 counties to get relief

This year's drought has been spotty, Virts said, but he noted that nine Southern Maryland and Eastern Shore counties qualify for federal disaster relief.

The drought is being blamed for the destruction of between 30 percent and 65 percent of the corn, soybean and tobacco crops in the nine counties.

On Sept. 25, Gov. Parris N. Glendening requested federal disaster designation for Maryland farmers from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Approval is expected at any time.

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.

Prices down considerably

The drought is just half of farmers' problems this year.

Corn and soybean prices are down 24 percent from last year. Winter wheat prices are off 32 percent.

"This could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Virts said of the combination of low prices and reduced crop yields. "I'm sure there are some farmers who are not going to make it through these tough times."

Across the country, wheat, soybean and corn farmers will receive the lowest prices for their crops in more than a decade, the government reported as President Clin- ton sparred with Congress over farm aid.

U.S. farm income is expected to drop 13 percent this year from last year's record high due to big Corn Belt harvests and large production in other parts of the world at a time of a decline in demand from Asia, which has been the top export destination for U.S. agricultural goods.

The U.S. corn crop is estimated at 9.74 billion bushels, and yields are expected to average 132 bushels per acre.

This would be the nation's second largest crop.

Soybean production is forecast at a record 2.91 billion bushels and the yield is expected to average 40.6 bushels per acre nationally.

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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