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Rain is too little, too late

July 25, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Farmers in the Tri-State area say the recent rain came just in time to pull some of their crops from the brink of death.

But the damage already has been done in most areas due to the month-long drought and most are predicting a poor harvest.

"There is some corn that may not make anything. There is going to be some loss," said Joe Middour, who operates a dairy farm with his father in Waynesboro, Pa.

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Jefferson and Berkeley County, W.Va., farmers, caught in the same dry weather pattern as their neighbors to the north and east, reflect the same concerns.

Charles Town, W.Va., grain and beef farmer J.P. Burns said he expects to get only half to two-thirds of a normal crop this year.

"It will go a long way, but we can stand some more in another week or so," Burns said, who measured just over 1.5 inches of rain in the last few days.

Burns, who farms 2,000 acres with his brother, Richard, lost 50 bales of wheat straw two weeks ago when a passing train sparked a field fire, burning eight acres.

Tapping into reserves

Farmers across the area already are dipping into their winter hay reserves since the dried up, brown pastures offer nothing for grazing cattle.

Corn and soybeans also took a beating in the dry weather.

"We don't know what kind of an ear the corn is going to produce," said Mary Beth Bennett, an agent with West Virginia University Cooperative Extension Service.

Corn stalks that should be reaching a height of at least 8 feet by now have been stunted by the lack of rain and some fields planted later this spring may never recover.

Boonsboro farmer Craig Leggett was glad to see the rain, but said it didn't do his corn any good.

"It's a blessing and it's good to see it, but it's too little too late. The corn is done. It has been in the ground for 90 days and it's not going to mature, but the soy beans have potential to snap out of this," he said.

He said the corn is close to being dead, and when winter arrives he'll have to "scrape the bottom of the barrel" to feed his cattle.

Donnie Beard, also of Boonsboro, agreed with Leggett, and said he needed more rain so that it won't evaporate when it gets brutally hot again. He said the corn needs the water so that it will pollinate and make ears.

"The weather will help some, but we need a lot more. We lost a cutting of alfalfa hay and we'll just have to wait 30 days and see," he said.

Galen Long of Williamsport said the rain is helping, but it's not as much as he had hoped.

"Just the coolness has been a relief to the corn, but we had hoped for a few inches of rain," he said. "We're happy with what we're getting."

"It certainly helped, but we can't go so far as to say it saved some of the crops," said William Reagan, senior agent with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

If anything, the recent rainfall will give farmers time to evaluate their situation, Reagan said.

Some may decide to go ahead and chop the corn that's obviously not going to make it, he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, 1.81 inches of rain had fallen in Chambersburg since Monday, according to a reading by local weather observer Jerry Ashway, who also is a science teacher at J. Frank Faust Junior High School.

The area's last significant rainfall, measuring three-quarters of an inch, was on June 18, according to Ashway's records.

Some areas near Shippensburg, Pa., received as much as 3 inches of rain while only a half-inch fell in and around Waynesboro.

"Every little bit counts. We'd be glad for more," said Paul Hess, owner of Paul's Country Market in Waynesboro.

Though Hess has been able to irrigate most of his crops during the dry spell, he said it's hard to keep up that costly and time consuming job.

"It's all we could do to keep up. It's been a struggle," he said.

Fire threat eases

The high danger rating for the area's forests has been lifted with the recent rainfall, though Pennsylvania forestry officials said they'd like to see a more normal weather pattern with rain every four to five days.

"Normally, the summertime is not a fire problem," said Phil Wert, forester at the Michaux State Forest.

The rain is expected to clear out by early morning as the remnants of hurricane Danny blow off to the East Coast, said Tom Dunham, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa.

"Things will be drying out a little bit," Dunham said.

The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is for mostly sunny skies with high temperatures in the mid-80s and lows in the 60s, Dunham said.

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