Dry weather brings high corn prices in Harford County

Corn prices are getting close to $8 a bushel and may meet or exceed the record of $7.99 a bushel if hot temperatures and a lack of rain persist.

Harford County crops, however, are still faring much better than those in key corn-growing states in the Midwest.

"The corn crop right now in Harford County is probably 75 to 80 percent of what it should be," farmer Bill Hanna said.

The owner of Quigley Farm in Whiteford, Hanna described the agricultural atmosphere at this point as "very stressful" and that the "moisture devastation is starting to show."

Dry weather has been a big problem across the country, with big portions of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri in the middle of a drought that may be the worst to hit the region since 1988, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Harford County, in comparison, is not under such extreme conditions, but still abnormally dry and in danger of corn and soybean crops being affected.

"It's not a record setting crop this year," Ed Grimmel, owner of Grimmel Farms in Jarrettsville, said. "We're in dire need of rain again."

Right now is a crucial time for pollination.

As farmer John Rigdon explained, "Each seed on the tassel [of the corn] has to be pollinated. Each silk on the kernels has to be pollinated. If one side doesn't have any kernels on the top or bottom it's because it doesn't get pollinated."

The owner of Rigdon Farms in Jarrettsville added that corn doesn't grow when temperatures reach more than 90 degrees, which has been a good number of days in June and July.

Another factor is the lack of snowfall during the winter, meaning a lack of moisture in the soil.

"In the spring," Rigdon said, "we got a fair amount of rain, but I think the sub-soil is lacking a lot of moisture."

Hanna said the abnormally warm winter didn't kill off bugs that are normally killed by the frost.

Earlier in the week, northern parts of the county saw around half an inch of rain. There were threats of severe storms Wednesday evening, but most of Harford saw only a few sprinkles.

Even then, Grimmel pointed out, there will be times when Bel Air will get an inch of rain and Jarrettsville will get barely any moisture.

"Some rain would definitely help," Rigdon commented. "Rain helps with pollination, also."

Rigdon estimates that corn is about 30 percent off,, possibly more, from its maximum yield.

"But if we don't get any amount of rain in the next two weeks," he continued, "the corn is going to take much more of a loss, more like 50 to 60 percent."

Henry Holloway, owner of The Mill in Bel Air, said the dry weather is what is driving up the cost.

"If you have a big demand and very little supply, the price will go up," he said.

What most people visiting farmers' markets and produce stands are seeing are the results of corn planted earlier during a mild and moist spring.

"The early corn crop does look good," John Sullivan said.

Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for agricultural affairs, also said soybeans "look good," but "pastures and hay seem to be a bit dry."

Corn is not only sold for human consumption, but also to feed livestock and, as Holloway noted, for the production of ethanol.

Despite the lack of rain and triple digit temperatures, Hanna feels the county is still better than it was at this time last year.

Harford farmers also have a no-till policy, which helps with moisture and soil conservation.

Farmers will be watching the weather closely for the next several weeks, hoping for some amount of rain.

The National Weather Service reports thunderstorms and showers are likely Friday and Saturday, but this, as weather often does, can change quickly.

"Farming is the biggest gamble in the world," Hanna said. "My daddy always said, 'You plant with faith and harvest with hope.'"

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