Just an average year for state's corn crop

ON THE FARM

August 17, 2008|By TED SHELSBY

Mother Nature has smiled on Melvin Baile Jr.'s grain farm in a little valley just outside the Carroll County town of New Windsor.

Dark green cornstalks, most of them 9 feet tall or taller, cover 330 acres. The ears of corn also show signs of a good growing season. Most cobs have a couple of extra rows of kernels, which means more production per acre.

"We have some of the best corn in our little valley that I have ever seen," says the 47-year-old grain farmer.

Unfortunately, Baile's grain fields are not typical of many others in the state. The corn on farms just 10 miles away, in either direction, has not fared nearly as well. The stalks have curled and have yellowish leaves, signs of stress from a lack of rain.

Some farmers in central Kent County fear their corn crop could be a total loss.

"It's really bad in that area," said Phil Councell Jr., who farms about 750 acres in Talbot County.

Maryland farmers project a yield of 130 bushels per acre for their corn crop this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's first estimate of the size of this season's major grain harvests.

"It's an average crop," said Barbara Rater, the chief statistician for the USDA's Maryland crop reporting field office. "It is one bushel above the five-year average for corn production in the state."

The government report is based on field conditions as of Aug. 1.

Rater agreed with farmers who said that not all regions of the state fared the same this year.

"Kent and Queen Anne's County look a lot drier this year than the Lower Eastern Shore," she said.

If conditions remain stable throughout the remainder of the growing season, corn production would total 53.3 million bushels.

The soybean crop is also expected to be better than last year's harvest, which suffered from a drought.

According to the government report, farmers are expected to harvest 460,000 acres of soybeans at an average yield of 34 bushels per acre.

This compares with last year's average yield of 27 bushels of soybeans per acre and the five-year average of 35 bushels per acre.

Total production of soybeans is expected to reach 15.6 million bushels.

One major bright spot in the government report has to do with the wheat crop. The USDA is projecting that state farmers will harvest 16.6 million bushels of wheat this year. This would be the largest wheat crop on record.

Wheat fields have yielded on average 77 bushels per acre, smashing the previous record of 68 bushels per acre set in 1997.

Barley fields have also yielded a record 90 bushels per acre, as compared with the previous record of 87 bushel per acre set in 2006. Total barley production is estimated at 4.1 million bushels.

The government is saying that 2008 will not be a good year for state apple growers. Apple production is forecast at 26 million pounds, down 21 percent from last year's harvest.

Rater said that orchards continue to be affected by last year's drought-stricken growing season.

Baile expects to harvest between 150 to 160 bushels of corn from each acre planted this year. He cautioned, however, that his estimate was based on "getting the needed rain to finish the crop off."

Much of the corn seen along the road from Baile's farm to Frostburg seems to have suffered from a shortage of rain since mid-July.

The corn looks pretty much the same on parts of the Eastern Shore.

"We're pretty dry," said Councell, whose farm is near Cordova. "We have had no measurable rain since the middle of July," he said. "That's a critical time for corn."

Weather also had an impact on crops in other parts of the country.

Despite June's severe drought in the Midwest, U.S. farmers are on pace to produce the second-largest corn crop and fourth-largest soybean crop in history, according to the government forecast.

Corn production is forecast at 12.3 billion bushels, down 6 percent from last year's record, but up 17 percent from 2006.

The corn yield is expected to average 155 bushels per acre, up 3.9 bushels from last year.

If realized, this would be the second-highest corn yield on record, behind 2004.

Growers are expected to harvest 79.3 million acres of corn for grain, down 8 percent from last year.

Soybean production is forecast at 2.97 billion bushels, up 15 percent from last year but down 7 percent from the 2006 record.

Soybean yields are expected to average 40.5 bushels per acre, down 0.7 bushels from 2007.

Total cotton production is forecast at 13.8 million bales, down 28 percent from last year. Yield is expected to average 842 pounds per acre, down 37 pounds from last year's record.

Producers expect to harvest 7.85 million acres of cotton, the lowest harvested area since 1983, and 25 percent less than last year.

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