Hot, dry August took a toll on Maryland soybeans, crop production report indicates

ON THE FARM

September 17, 2006|By Ted Shelsby

The hot, dry weather during August took a toll on Maryland's soybean harvest, according to a government survey.

In its crop production report released this past week, the government reduced its estimated yield for soybeans to 33 bushels per acre, down nearly 20 percent from its prediction of 41 bushels per acre the previous month.

The survey was based on field conditions as of Sept. 1 and included information from several hundred farms across the state, said Jeanne McCarthy-Kersey, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's statistics service for Maryland.

Meanwhile, corn fared better than some farmers had expected, as the government's forecast was unchanged from its Aug. 1 prediction of 142 bushels per acre.

"It is not going to be a great year for grain farmers, but it's not going to be a horrible one either," McCarthy-Kersey said.

One surprise was the potato harvest, with the government forecasting production of 89.6 million pounds. If this estimate holds, the crop will be 11 percent larger than last year.

"For potatoes, it was a strange season," said McCarthy-Kersey. "The heavy rains in early July wiped out a significant portion of the harvest."

The predicted yield works out to about 32,000 pounds per acre, which would be the highest in six years, McCarthy-Kersey said. A big portion of the potatoes grown in Maryland is shipped to potato chip processing plants.

Weather impact varied across Maryland, McCarthy-Kersey said, with the Eastern Shore receiving much less precipitation than Western Maryland.

"Crops on the Eastern Shore were more stressed by the lack of rain," she said.

Corn and soybeans are the two major grain crops in Maryland, with the bulk of the production going to the Eastern Shore poultry industry, where it is made into chicken feed.

The lack of rain during August, coupled with 100-degree temperatures at times, thwarted at least one Carroll County farmer from realizing a promising corn crop.

"In the last week of July, my corn looked really good," said Melvin Baile Jr., who farms more than 700 acres near New Windsor. "We weren't getting a lot of rain, but we were getting timely rains. It looked like a super crop. We had it all right there. It was so close, we could taste it."

But then the rain clouds vanished.

"My guess is that we have lost 35 bushels to 40 bushels [per acre] from our yield over the past six weeks," Baile said.

He expects to harvest between 130 and 135 bushels of corn from each acre planted.

Phil Councell Jr. is hoping for the best from his 900 acres of soybeans on a farm near Cordova in Talbot County.

"I know the beans were hurt by the dry weather," he said. "But I can't say how much. The jury is still out."

The government's outlook for crops in other parts of the country improved this month.

The USDA is predicting a corn harvest of 11.1 billion bushels, an increase of 1 percent over last month's survey. Farmers are expected to harvest 154.7 bushels of corn from each acre planted.

Soybean production is forecast at 3.09 billion bushels, an increase of 6 percent over the government's August forecast. Yields are expected to average 41.8 bushels per acre.

This would be an increase of 2.2 bushels from the August forecast, but 1.5 bushels lower than last year's yields.

If the USDA's predictions hold, this year's harvest would be the second-best on record for corn and soybeans.

Insurance deadline

In another weather-related move, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is reminding farmers that they have only until the end of the month to sign up for federal crop insurance policies to protect next year's crops of small grains (barley and wheat) for forage production.

Crop insurance provides effective protection against losses caused by adverse weather, such as drought, excess moisture, hail and hurricanes. MDA officials said in a notice to farmers. Insurance also provides protection for losses caused by wildlife and earthquakes.

Information: Mark Powell of the MDA, 410-841-5775.

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