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Dry weather raising farmers' concerns

June 02, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Despite storms Wednesday, farmers and agricultural experts in the Tri-State area said they are concerned about this year's hot, dry weather.

"Mother nature has the deck of cards in her hands," said Shannon Donley, owner of Fertile Plain Farm near Mosler Crossroads in Jefferson County, W.Va.

Donley said he may delay planting some crops, particularly soybeans and grain, because the moisture level is so low.

Local weather observers reported that Hagerstown received at least 1.2 inches of rain Wednesday while Chambersburg, Pa., received at least 1 inch and about 1.4 inches fell on Martinsburg, W.Va.

But the storms can't make up for a dry year, said Don Schwartz, a Washington County agricultural extension agent.

"This is just a bandaid. This allows us to survive from shower to shower," he said. "They need sustained rain for a few days to really soak the soil."

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A lack of surface moisture can damage crops and causes the water level in wells to drop, he said.

For the last few winters, little snow and not much rain needed to refill aquifers has fallen, he said.

"This has been a really extended dry period that basically started last July and has not really been rectified since."

The question callers are asking him, he said, is: "Are we going to have another dry summer with nothing in the bank? "

Tom Kerr, executive director of the Franklin County Farm Service Agency, said he is getting similar calls.

Farmers are reporting that streams and springs are at a low level not usually reached until July, he said.

Hay is the crop that will be most affected by the dry weather, he said.

"We are definitely having major problems," said Bill Bennett, executive director of the Berkeley/Morgan County Farm Service Agency.

Corn and bean crops are being damaged, he said.

"Hopefully, things will turn around. We are concerned but we're not down and out yet," said Gary Decker, who has been watching the dry weather affect his family's Licking Creek Township farm in McConnellsburg, Pa.

There is little a farmer can do in this situation, he said.

"You pretty much sit it out. Nature sooner or later takes care of us," said Decker, 44, a Fulton County Commissioner.

The weather so far this year, coming on the heels of two years of dry weather, makes him "beyond nervous," he said.

Decker said his grass and alfalfa crops have been hurt by the weather.

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