Late summer dry spell impacts Harford area farms

Harford County farmers are working out new plans for their upcoming harvest season as a late summer dry spell has kept water levels low across Maryland.

Both grain and produce farmers are hoping for a few days of rain to ensure good, quality crops this season.

Mike Doran, vice president of the Harford County Farm Bureau and a third generation farmer, said the dry spell is beginning to affect crops at his Whiteford farm.

"The dry spell is impacting our decision to plant our small grains like wheat and barley," Doran said. "We don't like to plant small grains in dry conditions."

Doran said his farm, like many grain-based farms in Harford County, does not have an irrigation system to remedy the loss in rainfall. He said his grain farm is too large for an irrigation system, which would require a significant body of water.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hofmann said the end of the summer has been dry in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area in comparison to a much wetter start to the season. Both June and July saw above-average precipitation, with June seeing rainfall 4.3 inches above average. But there was only 1.13 inches of rain recorded in August, which was 2.416 inches below average.

"There was been a significant turnaround in rainfall in July and August," Hoffman said. "The basic trend in the Baltimore-Washington area was warm and wet to warm and dry... The last two months of the summer were significantly below normal in precipitation."

Doran's farm also raises cattle, which feed on grass. He said the lack in rain has dramatically decreased grass growth, forcing the farm to use hay as a substitute.

"We're been supplementing the grass with hay, which is an expense," Doran said. "Typically we use hay in the harsh winter months. We really try to get through early winter with grass... The grass just isn't quite doing as well as it normally would."

Paula Harman, who owns Harman's Farm with her husband, Tom, said her produce is also suffering from the lack of rainfall. Harman said she is concerned at her farm about sales of their sweet corn and pumpkins, which are growing smaller than normal.

"The dry weather has been stressful on the pumpkins," Harman said. "Our goal is to keep leaves on the pumpkins to protect them and keep them healthy. There are leaves out there, but they aren't as big and it's stressing the pumpkins, which may not grow as big."

Harman said she is also concerned about her sweet corn, because many of the ears won't reach their full length due to the lack of rain.

"It's been a strange year," Harman said.

But Harman's farm has been lucky. Her produce farm in Churchville is equipped with an raised plastic bed irrigation system. She said her farm runs water from a pond and wells on her property to keep her crops healthy.

"We've been pumping from the pond," Harman said. "The pond level has gone way down because of the lack of rain and because we're pumping a lot of water."

According to the National Weather Service, hope may be on the horizon - rainfall is possible this weekend into early next week.

"There's a front approaching in the late weekend and an increasing likelihood in showers next week," Hofmann said. "It's uncertain in how long it could last for, but chances for rain increase Sunday night and decreases Tuesday night."

Hofmann said there is a 40 to 50 percent chance the Harford area could see rainfall next week.

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