Farmers fear seeds of conspiracy in clouds

August 16, 1997


Associated Press Writer

America has long been awash in conspiracy theories: Who shot JFK? UFOs in Roswell, N.M., and the government supplying drugs to inner cities.

Now, conspiracy mongering has reached even the bucolic foothills of Western Maryland, where more than two dozen farmers met this week with their congressman to express concern the federal government is causing this summer's drought.

"They've got to keep you in business at a mediocre level. That's how they control the abundance of food," said Waldon Burtner, a Boonsboro farmer of more than 50 years, offering one of several theories on why Big Brother won't let it rain.


The farmers suspect the government is altering natural weather patterns through a method called cloud-seeding, which uses silver iodide crystals to make it rain. The farmers believe cloud-seeding west of Maryland is depleting downwind skies of moisture. Others suspect unmarked planes are distributing chemicals to break up storm clouds.

"You see the storm coming, and you see the plane," said Randy Sowers, 43, who raises beef and chicken on 1,200 acres in Middletown, Md., and hosted the meeting with U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. "Then you get some wind and a few big drops, but that's it."

For the record, the government denies manipulating the weather.

Congress eliminated all weather modification programs two years ago for budget reasons, said Joseph H. Golden, a senior research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

About 40 cloud-seeding programs exist locally throughout the country, all west of the Mississippi River and far too distant to impact Maryland, Golden said.

"This sounds like a combination of the `X-Files' and the movie `Conspiracy Theory,'" Golden said.

Bartlett asked the farmers Thursday to bring him evidence of cloud-seeding or whatever else may be going on.

He said he doubted the government was causing the drought, but said he had an obligation to listen to constituents' concerns.

"What we have done is challenge them to provide some evidence," Bartlett said Friday.

But the farmers remain convinced of their theories, some of which have been around for more than 10 years and include developers as the culprits, cloud-seeding to stop the rain so they can build faster.

Yet another scenario involves Hollywood. A Civil War movie is being filmed in Sharpsburg this summer, and some suspect rich producers would gladly pay for dry weather.

Some of the farmers say they don't expect others to understand.

"A farmer is a nature person, it's his way of life," said Burtner, who raises beef and grain. "It's not the city people's problem. They don't know about agriculture and we don't try to run the city."

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