A bleak outlook for Maryland farmers State, federal officials attribute bad year to decline in exports

November 05, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

WYE MILLS -- Maryland farmers are suffering through one of their worst years ever and their financial problems are not expected to improve anytime soon.

That was the consensus of state and federal agriculture leaders who participated in an all-day Agricultural Outlook and Policy Conference sponsored by the Cooperative Extension arm of the University of Maryland.

Keith Collins, chief economist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said most of the farm troubles can be attributed to Asia, which is suffering through a recession and hurting U.S. farm sales.

Asia accounts for 40 percent of U.S. farm exports and exports have a huge impact on the price farmers receive for their commodities, Collins said.

"Exports reached an all-time record of $60 billion in 1996," he said, "and this coincided with record-high farm prices for major crops."

But exports have fallen steadily since then and are expected to total $54 billion this year and drop to $52 billion in 1999.

As a result of this decline, Collins said, corn and soybean prices are the lowest they have been since the mid-1980s. Hog prices are at a 27-year low.

The Asian crisis will likely show some improvement next year, but a full recovery is still two years off, said Bruce L. Gardner, assistant secretary of agriculture in the Bush administration and now an agricultural economist at the University of Maryland.

Kevin McNew, another economist with the University of Maryland, forecast modest commodity price increases by next spring, and said that it will likely take a drought in the Midwest to offset big carry-over stocks of grain and boost prices again.

McNew forecast that the price of Maryland corn would rise to $2.60 a bushel from $2.25 by spring. He expects soybean prices to jump to $5.80, from $5.30, and wheat will likely hold steady at $2.65 a bushel.

For livestock, he forecast a rise in beef prices to $73 a hundredweight from $64. He sees poultry prices dropping to 58 cents a pound from 62 cents, due to increased production next year.

Hog prices are expected to increase $1 a hundredweight to $36.

James Hanson, assistant director of Maryland Cooperative Extension, said that Maryland continues to lose farms at an alarming rate. "Every day since 1980 we have lost 60 acres of farmland," he said. "And every day since 1980 we have lost one farmer."

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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