Corn, soybean crops threatened

July 09, 1997


Staff Writer

A fast-moving storm dropped some rain in parts of Washington County Wednesday evening, but it largely missed the areas that need the water the most, farming analysts said.

Don Schwartz, Washington County extension agent for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, said the southern part of the county is close to experiencing severe drought conditions and Wednesday's rainfall didn't offer that area much relief.

A rainfall like Wednesday's "freshens things up for a day or so, but it does very little to improve the long-term situation," he said.


To farmers, that means dollars.

"All the rains have missed us. We've had less than half an inch in six weeks," Boonsboro-area farmer Craig Leggett said before the storm passed through. "The corn is only half as tall as it should be and I'm using winter feed to feed the animals."

Weather observers said only .10 inch of rain fell in the Boonsboro area on Wednesday.

Schwartz said farmers throughout Washington County averaged about 150 bushels of corn per acre during last year's unusually wet season. This year, if present conditions continue, he estimated the yield would be between 30 and 50 bushels per acre.

To put that in perspective, Schwartz said the break-even point is about 80 bushels.

"Somebody's going to go into debt," he said.

The dry conditions extend south into the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, agricultural observers said.

Craig Yohn, extension agent for the West Virginia University Extension Service in Jefferson County, said that in his area grasslands and fields of corn are drying up.

"The situation is becoming critical. If the heat stays in the 90s, we may see corn plants that don't produce an ear," he said. "I'm starting to hear of some feeding with hay. This will have a dire effect if the farmers are using it now instead of the fall and winter."

He said the National Weather Service's crop moisture index shows that the crops are either slightly dry or dry. The problem is that forecasts predict above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the next 30 days, he said.

"The 90-day forecast is the same for now through September. This doesn't bode well, in my opinion, for my crops," Yohn said.

Dick Burns, a farmer in Charles Town, W.Va., said he'll lose everything if it doesn't rain soon. He said a thunderstorm would help his 800 to 900 acres of corn and alfalfa, but said he needs 3 to 4 inches of rain over the next few days to help his beans and wheat.

"The pastures are gone. We have 225 head of cattle on pasture that are coming in and eating out of food storage. Our corn is shorter than normal and the leaves are curled terribly bad," Burns said.

Schwartz said Wednesday's rain was more helpful in the areas north of Hagerstown, which was in comparatively good shape.

Southcentral Pennsylvania also is faring better than West Virginia and Western Maryland, said Bill Reagan, senior extension agent in Franklin County.

Chambersburg rainfall levels this year are 5.5 inches short of the normal 14.50 inches, weather watcher Jerry Ashway said.

"It's dry, but I don't think we're at a desperate point," Reagan said. "However, if the dry weather continues it could affect the third cutting of the alfalfa. The later-planted corn looks pretty rough and is being affected by the lack of rain."

Staff Writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

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