Value of Md. farm products rose 5% in 2003


Despite damaging weather, the value of the crops and other products from Maryland farms rose 5 percent to $1.47 billion in 2003, when compared with 2002, the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service reported yesterday.

The service said heavier-than-normal rain meant some land went unplanted and other crops suffered from too much water. But higher prices for some crops offset the lower yield, though the overall total revenue was 5 percent less than in 2001.

Prices for some products that dominate in Maryland - such as corn, soybean and broiler chickens - were stable or up. Declines in revenue, however, were recorded for wheat, vegetables and barley because of decreases in quality and quantity.

Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the report of better prices for some crops was good news and said a rainy year "is better than any year with a huge drought."

She said farmers will continue to shift to more greenhouse and nursery high-dollar crops this year, and they will continue to diversify their fields. But many will continue focusing on the state's traditional products, which include broiler chickens and the feed crops for the poultry industry.

Information in the report also can help farmers steer a course in an industry habitually subject to uncertainty and global markets, Connelly said.

"With weather, South American farmers producing the same crops and flooding the market, other things, you never know," she said. The state's farmers were "optimistic" about this year, she said.

In addition to excessively wet weather since the fall of 2002, Maryland's farm sector has been hit by an outbreak of avian influenza on the Eastern Shore; a significant decline in the high-value tobacco crop due to a state buyout program, and a loss of farm land.

According to the latest agricultural census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2002, Maryland has lost more than 8 percent, or 1,000, of its farms, and over 5 percent, or 115,000 acres, of its total farm acreage since 1997.

According to the report released yesterday, the top 10 commodities in 2003, ranked by cash receipts, are:

Broiler chickens, $494.7 million; greenhouse and nursery, $325.2 million; milk and dairy products, $162.5 million; corn, $87.3 million; soybeans, $86.3 million; cattle and calves, $79.4 million; vegetables, $44.6 million; eggs, $42.2 million; hay, $23.4 million, and wheat, $16.9 million.

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