State says drought cost Md. farmers $72.4 million

Low prices bring loss of another $30 million

October 06, 1999|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Maryland farmers will lose $72.4 million this year due to the drought and the resulting decreased crop production, state Department of Agriculture officials told two legislative committees in Annapolis yesterday.

And when a projected $30.1 million in losses from depressed market prices are added, the state's farmers will have taken a $102.5 million hit, the officials said.

"This drought may be the straw to break the camel's back this year," Henry A. Virts, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, told the House Environmental Matters Committee and the House Ways and Means Tax and Revenue Subcommittee in a briefing.

Despite the heavy economic impact -- and the farming season being the driest in 70 years -- fewer than 10 percent of the state's 13,500 farmers have applied for drought assistance grants, said Royden N. Powell III, an assistant secretary of agriculture.

The state Agriculture Department has $3 million in emergency funds available.

So far, the department has received about 1,100 applications for aid. About $1.6 million has been distributed so far, Powell said.

The assistance includes a cover-crop program that reimburses farmers $25 an acre, a small-grain planting program that reimburses farmers up to $15 per acre, and emergency assistance to provide feed or water for livestock.

Some legislators raised concerns that farmers may not know about the assistance programs.

"We made every effort through all the channels we know of to get the word out," Powell said.

The department issued 16,000 direct-mail pieces and used the Internet and local farming offices to tell farmers about the available funding, he said.

Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat and chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, urged the Agriculture Department to put together a 20-year strategic plan for the farming community to give a clearer sense of where the industry is headed.

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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