Area harvest turns out better than expected

September 03, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Although this year's harvest will be far from good, farmers in the Tri-State area say it's turning out to be better than expected despite the unforgiving weather.

"Some of it (corn) surprises us, some of it disappoints us," said Rodger Hawbaker, who began chopping the 180 acres of corn on his Waynesboro, Pa., farm on Tuesday morning.

Crops weren't given much of a chance from early in this year's growing season.

In April, orchards were hit with a late frost that hurt the peach harvest and resulted in a yield of fewer peaches and smaller fruit, particularly among the earlier varieties.


The cooler-than-normal spring also delayed planting and growth of field crops.

Dry conditions in late June extended into July and August, putting the final squeeze on crops and produce, according to agriculture experts.

"Some of the fellas are surprised at some of the quality coming out of the fields. Still, yields are only half to a third of what they should be," said Don Schwartz, Washington County extension agent.

Crop reports vary, depending on the location of the farms and orchards.

Farmers south of Hagerstown aren't making out as well as their neighbors to the north because this summer's dry spell nearly devastated their crops.

"Washington County was really nailed," Schwartz said.

One field of corn in Washington County that yielded an average of 37 tons of silage per acre last year is expected to produce only five tons per acre this year, Schwartz said.

"The only difference is the water," he said.

Farmers in Jefferson County, W.Va., also are facing problems, according to Craig Yohn, Jefferson County extension agent.

Farmers are finding corn ears are only half filled, Yohn said.

That's forcing grain farmers to harvest corn as silage, meaning the whole plant is chopped up, probably for storage, with an eye toward selling the silage in the winter, Yohn said.

In Franklin County, Pa., some farmers started chopping drought-affected corn weeks ago, but some of the corn planted later responded well to the recent rain, said County Extension Agent William Reagan.

"We have a very positive outlook now. It's not as desperate as it was. Still, we're looking at a 40 percent loss in general," Reagan said.

In addition to the late corn, the rain will help the fourth cutting hay crop and the sorghums and small grains planted later, he said.

The hit-and-miss rains produced a startling difference in 600 acres of corn owned by Saint Thomas, Pa., dairy farmer Dennis Peckman.

The corn planted primarily in rocky ground on the home farm off U.S. 30 died during the drought, Peckman said. He has since replanted those fields with alfalfa.

But his cornfields in Lemasters, Pa., seven miles to the west are producing better-than-average yields, he said.

"The difference is it rained in Lemasters and it didn't here," Peckman said.

Just west of Peckman at Bingham's Orchard, co-owner Betty Kriner said the recent rains have helped the peach crop by producing bigger fruit.

But the family is only expecting a quarter of the crop of pears this year.

"We took a loss, but not a total loss," Kriner said.

This year is definitely not a "limb-breaker," said J.D. Rinehart, who co-owns Rinehart Orchards in Smithsburg, with her father, John.

Their peaches and apples were hurt both by the late frost and the drought, although Rinehart said the fall apples, which should be ready for picking by the end of this month, look like they're going to be "good quality of medium size."

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