State corn crop coming in smaller than predicted 100 bushel-an-acre forecast turning into 95-bushel reality

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

With 85 percent of the harvesting completed, the Maryland Department of Agriculture yesterday lowered its estimate of the size of this year's drought-damaged corn crop.

Based on data as of Nov. 1, the department's Agricultural Statistics Service is projecting an average corn yield of 95 bushels an acre, down from the 100 bushels that it was forecasting most of the growing season.

Ray Garibay, head of the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service, said lower Eastern Shore farms have suffered the most from a shortage of rain over the growing season, but farms in other parts of the state are also reporting lower than average corn yields.

"With this decrease in expected corn yields, there will be a further increase in the economic loss due to drought conditions," Garibay said.

Last month, the department estimated that Maryland net farm income from soybeans and corn would be down 34 percent -- or $78.8 million -- from the five-year average of $231.4 million.

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

Although a harvest of 95 bushels of corn per acre would be slightly above last year's 90 bushels an acre, it would still be 32 percent lower than the 139 bushels per acre farmers reaped in 1996, their last nondrought year.

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 Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland counties that have been designated disaster areas by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. The drought here comes as Corn Belt farmers are reaping bumper crops that have pushed prices to 20-year lows.

State Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts said earlier that the financial impact of poor crops and low prices is going to impact every rural section of Maryland.

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

State farmers are already receiving some financial help from the $6 billion farm aid package approved by Congress last month.

William Walmsley, head of the Farm Service Agency's farm loan program for Maryland and Delaware, said Maryland farmers have received approximately $6.4 million in transition payments from the federal government's marketing loss assistance program.

Maryland's soybean harvest is forecast at 26 bushels an acre, down from 28 bushels last year and well below the 1996 average yield of 39 bushels an acre.

Tobacco production is forecast at 10.9 million pounds, 9.4 percent less than last year.

Leaf growers were hurt by too much rain in the spring and too little rain in midsummer.

Because of the drought, the leaves are thicker. This is less desirable to tobacco companies and the price is expected to be down at next spring's auction.

Pub Date: 11/14/98

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