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Recent rain raises hopes on drought-ravaged farms Corn, fruit benefit from wet weather


After last summer's devastating drought, county farmers are reveling in recent rains. A few even say this year's crop could be their best ever.

"At this point, we're guaranteed of a good crop, and if we get timely showers, maybe a record crop," Westminster grain farmer Donald C. Essich said.

He cautioned, however, that nature still could strike a blow in the form of hail or an early frost that could damage crops.

Last year, Mr. Essich, a farmer for 30 years, lost two-thirds of his corn crop to the drought and had to go into debt for the first time in 10 years.

This year's weather has allowed him and other farmers to be more optimistic about their crops. Rainfall in the Westminster area still is below normal for this time of year but not as much as it was last year.

As of July 24, rainfall was 2.69 inches below normal in the Westminster area for the growing season, which begins March 1. Last year in late July, rainfall was 9.08 inches below normal, according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

The area had received about 16 inches of rain from March 1 through July 24.

Last year's drought destroyed 70 percent of the county's corn crop, 80 percent of its pastureland and 62 percent of its soybeans. The losses to farmers exceeded $17.4 million.

Frederick was the only county in the state that lost more, federal crop damage estimates showed.

When rain has come this summer, it's been timely for the corn's development, Cooperative Extension Agent Thomas Ford said. Corn is the county's main cash crop.

"Every time it looks like it's getting critical for the corn, it rains," he said. "We've had just enough rain to keep the crops up and running."

The season also has been a beneficial one for fruit grown in Carroll.

John D. Myers Jr. said his orchards at Bachman Valley Farms in Westminster look promising.

"It's been a very favorable growing season. The fruit crop may be one of the best we've ever had," he said.

Peaches and nectarines being picked now look good, and the apples are getting bigger on the trees, he said. The rain has helped their size, as did the absence of frost damage, he said.

Mr. Myers has 160 acres of fruit trees and about 1,200 acres of corn.

Recent rains "really soaked the ground nicely. The corn crop is almost made," he said, adding that he expects to get at least double the yield per acre of corn that he did last year.

Medford grain farmer Melvin Baile Sr. said his soybeans and other bean varieties "are looking lovely."

He and his son, Melvin Baile Jr., planted 23 acres this year of a new variety of beans, called cranberry beans. The beans, about the size of a kidney bean, are red and white, he said.

The crop was planted just a few weeks ago and is doing well, Mr. Baile said.

The Bailes also planted 150 acres of corn. Last year, their yield was about 56 bushels per acre; this year, he said he expects it to be 130 to 150 bushels per acre.

"Everything has just been clicking, moisture-wise, for the corn," Mr. Baile said.

With the crops looking good for this year, some farmers may look ahead to next year.

The federal government has announced its wheat program for 1993, and it could be beneficial to many farmers, said Elizabeth ++ A. Schaeffer, county executive director of the U.S. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.

The government is trying to increase the amount of wheat grown in the country. It will pay farmers the difference between the market price and the target price and not require farmers to set aside any land, she said.

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