The hot, dry harvest year now drawing to a close was a dismal one for the region's grain farmers, but it was slightly better than expected, according to a government survey.
Farmers in Maryland and Delaware are reporting better yields than originally predicted, said Barbara Rater, director of the USDA's Maryland agriculture statistics office.
With 95 percent of the corn in the bin, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting that Maryland farmers will harvest 90 bushels of corn from each acre planted, an increase of nearly 6 percent over the government's October forecast of 85 bushels. The survey, released last week, was based on field conditions as of Nov. 1.
For most farmers it is too little too late. Melvin Baile Jr., a Carroll County grain farmer, said he would need to harvest at least 110 bushels per acre to cover the cost of planting and harvesting.
This year's corn yield is down from 142 bushels per acre last year. It will be the smallest harvest since the drought of 2002, when the state average was 74 bushels per acre.
The growing season was no better in Delaware. Neither is the corn yield estimate.
Grain farmers in other parts of the country fared much better. Corn production nationwide is forecast to be a record 13.2 billion bushels, which would represent an increase of 25 percent over last year's harvest.
Farmers nationwide are expected to get a yield of 153 bushels per acre, the second-highest on record.
Maryland's soybean crop also is expected to be slightly larger than previously projected, according to the USDA data. Farmers are estimating an average yield of 26 bushels per acre, an increase of one bushel per acre over the government's October estimate but well below last year's yield of 34 bushels.
The Maryland soybean harvest is about 75 percent complete.
Delaware farmers expect a yield of 23 bushels per acre of soybeans. The U.S. average is forecast at 41.3 bushels per acre.
Corn and soybeans are the two major grain crops in Maryland. The bulk of the grain goes to the Eastern Shore poultry industry, where it is made into chicken feed.
Though the Thanksgiving holiday makes this a big week for the turkey, the big bird represents only a small part of Maryland's poultry industry.
According to the state Department of Agriculture, farmers produced 730,000 turkeys last year and sales totaled $12.5 million. By comparison, farmers produced 272 million broiler chickens last year, with sales topping $535 million.
Turkeys sold directly from the farm to the consumer account for only a small portion of the state production.
A list of farmers selling to consumers is available on the department's Web site, www.mda. state.md.us.
State agriculture officials are issuing a warning to residents looking to stock up on wood for their fireplaces: Stay away from Prince George's County.
The department reminds residents that a quarantine prohibits the movement of ash wood ma- terials and all hardwood firewood out of the county.
The restriction is to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer, a voracious beetle blamed for the destruction of 25 million trees, including 25,000 in Prince George's, since being discovered in Michigan in 2002.
The beetle resembles a small grasshopper. It is believed to have made its way from Michigan to the Clinton and Brandywine sections of Prince George's County in a shipment of trees from Michigan in violation of a quarantine there.
The emerald ash borer burrows through the bark of an ash tree and stops the flow of water from the roots. The infested tree usually dies within two or three years.
Seats are still available at three workshops designed for farmers who want to become certified by the state Agriculture Department to write nutrient-management plans for their operations.
Farmers who use manure and fertilizer on their fields may register for workshops in Charles County on Jan. 8, in Washington County on Jan. 22, or in Baltimore County on Feb. 12. To register, contact the department at 410-841-5959.