Md. crop damage may top $70 million Drought hit north central area hardest


Melvin E. Baile Jr. harvested the last of his corn crop yesterday afternoon, but there was little reason to celebrate.

The closer-to-normal rainfalls throughout the state during the past two months came too late to offset an estimated $70 million in damage done to crops by the hot, extremely dry weather during June and July.

Take Mr. Baile's corn crop, for example. It was about half the size of what he had hoped for when he planted his fields in the spring.

"We finished the corn harvest about an hour ago," said the 30-year-old Carroll County farmer, who tills about 600 acres near New Windsor. "I'd say we had a yield of about 50 to 55 bushels [per acre]. In a normal year, it would be 110 to 120. It's about half of what it should have been, or a little bit less."

In the next couple of weeks, he will move his combine into the soybean fields, where he expects the situation to be much worse.

Mr. Baile expects his fields to yield between five and 10 bushels of beans per acre this year, down from a seven-year average of 30 to 40 bushels. "Our break-even point, as far as cost is concerned, is between 20 and 25 bushels," he said. "We are not even going to cover our cost of seed, fertilizer and chemicals. No way."

Mr. Baile's experience has been shared this year by farmers throughout Maryland -- particularly those in the north central counties -- according to U.S. Department of Agriculture crop surveys.

"It's a safe bet that crop damage [in the state] will approach $70 million, or more," said James C. Richardson, head of the USDA's Maryland Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office. In July, he put the loss at $57.6 million.

Citing figures from a statewide crop production survey completed earlier this month, Carroll Homann, a statistician with the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, noted that about 35 percent of the Maryland corn crop was lost due to the lack of rain. The damage was more severe in the region that includes Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties.

The state's average yields per acre, which more accurately reflect the damage of this summer's drought, are way off, Mr. Homann said. Farmers are expected to harvest 77 bushels of corn per acre this year, compared with 118 bushels last year.

Total corn production is estimated at 35.4 million bushels, down from last year's 53.1 million bushels.

In some parts of the state, soybeans seemed to have benefited a bit from the rains that came in August and September. Maryland's soybean production is estimated at 14.5 million bushels, compared with 17.8 million bushels a year ago. Yields from the beans are estimated at 29 bushels per acre, down from 36 last year.

Mr. Richardson said that this summer's drought was "devastating" to the late hay harvest.

contrast, Mr. Homann said, state apple growers are expected to record their best harvest since 1986. The USDA estimates that this year's apple harvest will come in at 75 million pounds, up from 33 million pounds last year when the fruit was damaged by a late April frost.

The frost also hurt last year's peach harvest, which totaled only 4 million pounds. By comparison, this year's peach crop is estimated at 18 million pounds.

In mid-August, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan designated eight Maryland counties for federal drought relief. Farmers in contiguous counties also qualify for relief.

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