Many Shore farmers left financially under water

`Totally wiped us out,' cucumber grower says

June 29, 2006|By STACEY HIRSH, JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS AND ANDREA WALKER | STACEY HIRSH, JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS AND ANDREA WALKER,SUN REPORTERS

Hilmar Helgason, a Dorchester County farmer, figures he was right in the worst of it - he said he got about 18 inches of rain. That's a disaster for his cucumbers.

"It's totally wiped us out," he said, talking on his cell phone as he checked out the damage yesterday. "The ones that are ready to pick, we're not able to get in the field to pick them, and the ones behind them ... disease is getting into them. And a lot of the ones even after that are just drowned - they're under water."

Helgason, 47, who farms 900 acres in the Dorchester towns of Eldorado and Hurlock and in Seaford, Del., has about 250 acres in cucumbers, not counting the 20 acres he's already picked. He thinks he might end up losing 80 percent of the remainder, wiping out the $140,000 he's spent on it.

Produce on Maryland's agricultural Eastern Shore took the hardest hit from rain that has doused the region, and some farmers are still waiting until it's dry enough to get back out into the field.

The weather caused an estimated $7 million to $8 million in damages to farms in Dorchester County, but farmers and agricultural experts say the full extent won't be known until the crops are harvested. Farmers in Dorchester and Caroline counties on the mid-Shore appear to have sustained the brunt, said Liz Anderson, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency in Maryland.

Anderson estimated losses would range from 20 percent to 60 percent in Dorchester, which has about 350 farms, and from 15 percent to 45 percent in Caroline, depending on the crop. Cucumbers were the worst off, and some cantaloupe and watermelon fields were partially submerged.

"A 60 percent loss on a crop is pretty significant. I mean, I think that this is pretty bad," she said.

Infrastructure also suffered. Railroad tracks in Dorchester that are used for hauling grain to the poultry plants were damaged, and at least one pond used for irrigation was flooded out, said Betsy Gallagher, an agricultural science agent at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Dorchester County office.

It was unclear yesterday how much damage poultry growers suffered. Gallagher said at least three poultry houses in Dorchester were flooded. Anderson had heard that three to five chicken houses were inundated, which she said could translate to as many as 150,000 dead chickens. But she said it's still unclear how many were lost, and whether some of those were in Delaware.

Hope for corn

David Andrews, who owns Clearview Farms in Hurlock, estimated that he lost a quarter of his 300 acres of cucumbers, and 30 percent to 40 percent of his 200 acres of string beans. David Wilson, who has a farm in nearby East New Market, estimated he lost about 10 acres of soybeans.

He's waiting to see what will happen to his 25 acres of corn, which can bring in $10,000 to $12,000.

"There's a chance if it stops raining and the water goes down, we can save it," Wilson said.

But some corn benefited from the deluge. About a week ago, 80 percent of Caroline County's corn was curling up from lack of water and only 20 percent looked good. Today, about 10 percent is under water and the rest will do well, said Jim Lewis of the Caroline County office of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Large patches of pickling cucumbers are on the verge of dying at Harry Nagel's 800-acre Caroline County farm, where rain has soaked the land in recent days.

There was so much rain, Nagel said, that "the water just laid and laid and laid, and when you have that much water, you've got disease problems and you've got rot."

"Our only hope or bright spot is that we're still planting and we're hoping that the [cucumbers] that come off later, that the yields will be good so it'll all balance out a little bit," said Nagel, who estimated that he lost three-quarters of the 120 acres of cucumbers ready to harvest at his farm.

Nagel figures he also lost 10 percent of his corn in standing water. But the rain helped the other 90 percent, which had been in danger of drying up, and that will more than make up for it, he said.

"As bad as it is right now, somehow I think it's going to work out," said Nagel, who spent yesterday working on farm equipment and pumping water out of flooded areas.

Farms in the Baltimore area fared much better than those on the Eastern Shore.

`Great timing'

The pick-your-own business at Larriland Farm in Woodbine missed out on a day of customers Tuesday because of the rain, but was open again yesterday for people willing to park in the paved drive and walk over the still-soft dirt roads to the fields, said Lynn Moore, an owner of Larriland.

Some ripe fruits were lost to the pelting of heavy rain, Moore said, but other blueberries, tart cherries and raspberries were still ripening this week and handled the water fine.

Plus, "for our blackberry crops and our peach crop, this was great timing on the rain. They are at the stage of growth where the rain will set a nice fruit," Moore said.

In Carroll, Frederick, and Anne Arundel counties, experts said the rain benefited farms more than it hurt them. The wheat crop may have been damaged in Howard County, but the rain may have helped corn and beans, said Howard County Farm Bureau President Philip Jones.

"This has really been a godsend," said Terry Poole, an agent for the Frederick County extension. "The crops now look pretty darn good."

Sun reporters Tyeesha Dixon and Sandy Alexander contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.