Not 'right as rain' this spring Delayed planting: Unrelenting showers dampen fields, prospects for prosperous 1998 crops.


RAIN THAT was too scarce last summer is too abundant this spring, Central Maryland farmers lament. Crucial corn and soybean plantings have been delayed for nearly two weeks, while winter hay stands uncut in the soggy fields.

Even as the rainfall lifted this week, farmers still must wait several days for the soil to dry out enough to plant the grain crops and to transplant greenhouse fruit and vegetable sprouts to the fields.

Later plantings mean lower yields of corn and soybeans. Agronomists calculate that one day's delay in May planting equals one bushel less grain per acre at harvest. Laying crops in soaked soil also produces inferior grain yields. These predicted smaller crops will not fetch higher prices, either, amid reports of surplus production in other regions.

Elsewhere in Maryland, except in parts of the Eastern Shore, the weather has cooperated to allow timely corn and bean planting.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts record production of soybeans and near-record output of corn this year. And that bountiful supply translates into much lower prices, perhaps 20 to 30 percent lower than last year, economists project.

Copious quantities of winter wheat have already forced prices 20 percent lower than last year. The government is also sitting on the biggest stockpile of surplus corn in six years, which will depress market prices. Grain exports are also expected to slump with the Asian economic crisis resulting in reduced overseas demand.

Maryland farmers lost more than $70 million and piled on more debt in last summer's drought. They hoped to recover those losses this year; weather and free market economics have not supported those aspirations. "The situation doesn't look very pretty this year," aptly observes Melvin Baile Jr., of New Windsor, president of the Maryland Grain Producers Association.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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