Because of drought, Md. corn harvest expected to be 40 percent lower than last year's

On the farm

September 16, 2007|By Ted Shelsby

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its latest crop production forecast during the week, and the Maryland numbers were pretty dismal, even worse than expected.

The latest government survey confirms earlier reports that this year's drought could be as bad as the one in 2002, which was considered the worst in the state in more than a century.

Based on field conditions as of Sept. 1, the USDA predicts that Maryland farmers will harvest an average 85 bushels of corn from each acre planted. This is down from the 90 bushels per acre in last month's government estimate.

It would be the lowest yield since the 2002 drought, when the state average was 74 bushels per acre. This year's expected corn yield would be 40 percent lower than last year's 142 bushels per acre.

With some farmers beginning to harvest their corn, there is little chance that the predictions will show improvement later in the season.

The government survey also showed that the August rains did nothing to help the soybean crop.

Soybeans are expected to yield 25 bushels per acre this year, unchanged from the August estimate.

This is down 26 percent from the 34 bushels per acre that farmers harvested last year.

This year's soybean yield is projected to be the smallest since the drought of 2002, when farmers harvested a record low of 23 bushels of beans per acre.

Soybeans are harvested later than corn. As a result, they frequently benefit from August rains that come too late help the corn crop.

Corn and soybeans are Maryland's two top grain crops. The bulk of the grain is purchased by poultry companies and made into chicken feed.

As in previous droughts, this year's did not treat all farmers equally.

Melvin Baile Jr. estimates that he will harvest about 85 bushels of corn per acre this year. "That won't cover my costs of planting," he said Thursday morning during a break in harvesting. "I would need 110 bushels at about $4 a bushel to break even."

After harvesting his barley in June, Baile planted 125 acres of green beans in early July. They suffered from the lack of rain and did not fair nearly as well as expected.

"I will probably get 1 1/2 tons of beans per acre," he said. "Normally I get 3 1/2 tons per acre.

To break even, he said he would have to harvest between 2 1/2 tons and 2 3/4 tons of beans per acre.

Phil Councell Jr. farms about 1,000 acres off U.S. 50 near Cordova in Talbot County. "We were hit pretty hard by the drought this year," he said.

"Rain was almost nonexistent from the middle of June to the end of August," he said. "And in August, we didn't get much."

The harsh condition took a big toll on his corn. "We have started our harvesting, and the field don't look too good," Councell said.

"I expect our corn yield to run between 40 bushels per acre and 70 bushels per acre," he said. His normal harvest is 140 to 160 bushels per acre.

Baile said this year was particularly frustrating. He could watch the storms come off the Great Lakes on his office computer. "They would go across Indiana and Ohio and into Pittsburgh," he said. "But they would not drop down into Maryland. It was as if the Mason-Dixon Line was some sort of moisture barrier.

"It was so frustrating," he added, "we were only 40 miles from the rain. But that's the risks we take to be farmers. With adequate rain, there is no good reason for us not to yield 150 to 160 bushels of corn in this part of the state."

The USDA declared all of Maryland a drought disaster last month. The designation makes some farmers available for low-interest government loans to help them recover from their financial losses.

But because farmers first must be rejected by conventional lenders before they can apply for the federal loans, very few of the government disaster loans are approved.

According to a USDA survey, crops in every region of the state were damaged by a lack of rain this year.

Farms in some regions suffered more damage than in others.

In Carroll County, nearly 80 percent of the corn was considered a loss, along with 71 percent of the soybeans.

In neighboring Frederick County, 41.3 percent of the corn was considered a loss along with 41 percent of the soybeans.

Farmers in Caroline County watched as the drought claimed 72 percent of the corn and 74.2 percent of the soybeans.

In Harford County, the corn loss was estimated at 30.3 percent; Howard County, 25 percent; Baltimore County 25.4 percent; and in Anne Arundel County the loss was 40 percent.

CORN LOSSES

The drought has led to losses in grain harvests statewide. This chart shows the percentage of corn lost in each county:

Anne Arundel:

40 percent

Baltimore:

25.4 percent

Caroline:

72 percent

Carroll :

80 percent

Frederick :

41.3 percent

Harford:

30.3 percent

Howard:

25 percent

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