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Soybean, corn harvests were OK; Despite drought, yields in 1998 were 'slightly above average' in Md.


The state's 1998 corn and soybean crops are in the bin, and both are considerably bigger than previously estimated, agriculture officials said yesterday.

"Once the harvesting was complete, many farmers realized their crops were better than they expected," said David Knoph, deputy director of the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

Knoph said last year's corn and soybean crops came in "at slightly above average," despite a drought that resulted in federal disaster designation for 16 Maryland counties.

The service reported that growing conditions varied greatly from county to county last year, and the average corn yield was 109 bushels per acre. This was nearly 15 percent better than the department's last estimate in November.

Soybean farmers fared even better. At an average yield of 31 bushels an acre, the bean crop is nearly 20 percent better than estimated two months ago.

Knoph said some late rains helped crops, but he attributed the big difference between his office's November estimate and its final figures to the conservative predictions of farmers as they were suffering through the drought.

Knoph said that, while farms in some regions of the state suffered serious drought damage, others posted surprisingly good harvests.

"My double-crop beans were the best ever," said Donald W. Merryman, a veterinarian who farms in the Whiteford section of Harford County. "They came in at 35 1/2 bushels [per acre]. I was lucky; we got an inch and a half of rain when it was really needed."

Merryman said he normally harvests between 25 bushels and 32 bushels of beans from each acre planted.

It was a much different situation on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore.

Turp Garrett, a University of Maryland Cooperative Extension agent in Worcester County, said the corn yields ranged between 95 and 105 bushels per acre last year. This was down sharply from the average yield of 143 bushels per acre in 1997.

Southern Maryland tobacco production came in at 9.1 million pounds, 24 percent smaller than the 1997 crop.

For the country as a whole, farmers posted bumper crops last year.

Corn production was estimated at 9.76 billion bushels, up 6 percent from 1997, but down 1 percent from the November forecast. It was the second-largest crop on record, and the average yield was 134 bushels per acre.

Soybean farmers harvested a record 2.76 billion bushels last year, 3 precent more than in 1997. The average yield was 38.9 bushels per acre.

While grain farmers experienced mixed results in the field, they all share the agony of low market prices.

Corn prices, for instance, were averaging $1.80 to $2.20 a bushel, compared with $2.43 in 1997 and $2.71 in 1996.

Soybeans, which were selling for $7.35 a bushel in 1996, dropped to $5.15 last year.

The low prices, blamed in part on big harvests and the Asian financial crisis, led Congress to pass a $7 billion emergency aid package to help farmers late last year.

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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