Farms spring into action

Season: Some farmers have begun to plant crops, while others are waiting for warmer temperatures. Either way, they're enjoying spring.

April 22, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Farmers get spring fever, too.

"Everything is coming alive, all of nature, the trees, the grass," says Bobby Prigel Jr., a fourth-generation farmer in Baltimore County's Long Green Valley. The grass is a welcome arrival, because that's what his cows eat.

In grain fields, the wheat and barley have awakened from their winter dormancy and soaked up the fertilizer that farmers spread last month. Wheat fields looked like sparse lawns a month ago. Now they are lush and the grain is almost knee-high.

Vegetable farmers are planting lettuce and peas, which like cooler weather. Some farmers are planting corn. Others are waiting.

"I use the thermometer method," said Carroll County grain farmer Melvin E. Baile Jr. "I stick the thermometer 2 inches into the ground at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and if it's 55 degrees, and they're not calling for two weeks of wet weather and cooler temperatures, then I plant corn.

"I haven't gotten the thermometer out yet, but I know it's not 55 degrees," Baile said.

After corn, soybeans go in. Tomatoes and other more fragile crops have to wait until after the last frost date: May 10.

The season's intensity is evident in the numbers: Workers for Lippy Brothers Inc., the largest farm in the Baltimore area, have finished putting 75,000 pounds of pea seed into 250 acres. They're moving on to planting field corn: 68,000 pounds of seed on 4,000 acres; then soybeans: 180,000 pounds on 3,000 acres; and green beans: 165,000 pounds on 1,500 acres.

In the barnyard, ewes are lambing and cows are calving.

All over Central Maryland, farmers who had to spend more time than they like in their shops and barns during the winter are savoring the season of rebirth in spite of unfavorable market conditions.

"It just feels good to get outside," said Lawrence Meeks, who farms 2,000 acres of grain in northern Carroll County. "And the weather is just really, really nice."

But he isn't putting away the winter-weight coveralls.

"There could be some cold days in April and May," he warned, based strictly on years of experience and not on some of the omens that his aunts used on their Eastern Shore farms.

Most farmers are facing prices for milk and grain that are comparable with 30 years ago, while expenses have multiplied.

"Farmers are eternal optimists," said Tommy Albright, 42, a third-generation farmer in Jacksonville.

"No money is coming in now, but it's going out," Albright said. "On one hand, we're some of the smartest people in the world, because we can go out there and produce what we produce. On the other hand, we're stupid because we're selling things for less than it cost to produce them."

Trimming around his strawberry plants and mulching the raspberry and blackberry bushes are the priority this week for John Foster, a sixth-generation farmer in Hereford.

The 1,500 asparagus crowns he planted three years ago on a quarter-acre plot have begun to shoot from the ground and should be established enough this year for a good commercial crop, he said.

"I'm anxiously waiting every day," he said.

"It's the best time of year," Foster said. "For me, spring is the season of anticipation. What happens in the springtime sets the rest of the season. It's a very critical period for the rest of the production."

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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