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Dry weather puts crops at risk

June 15, 1999|By ERIN HEATH

Dale Price needs one thing to keep his crops healthy: Rain.

Price is one of many area farmers worried about the dry weather and its negative effects on local crops.

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"When we are this dry this early in the season, it takes fairly significant rainfall just to maintain the crops," he said. "This is a crucial time that the plants are in now."

The drought-like conditions won't be cured by normal rainfall, according to Jim Decarufel, a National Weather Service forecaster.

"We don't see an end to it right now," he said. "It's going to take a hurricane-type of rain to get water levels even near where they should be."

Most crop farmers need a minimum of 1 inch of rain per week, said Washington County Agriculture Extension Agent Jeff Semler.

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Without that level of precipitation, crops probably will have lower yield, and the size of some crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, apples and peaches might be affected, Semler explained.

"If we don't have rain in the next two weeks it will severely affect the harvest," he said.

Price, who works with his father, Terry Price, farms his own land in Sharpsburg and rents land around the area, where he grows wheat, barley, corn and soybeans. He said he benefited from a rainfall over the weekend but said other farms weren't so lucky.

"You can get some rain and then you can find farms just two miles down the road that didn't get any," he said. "There's no consistency to the weather patterns that have been carrying in the water this past year."

Dairy farmers like Earl Grove, of Hagerstown, also have been affected by the dry spell. Grove raises crops such as corn and alfalfa to feed his cows. If dry weather damages his crops, he'll have to buy feed, he said.

"If we don't ... get moisture, we'll have a real problem," he said. "We put a good deal of money in the ground to raise crops to feed our cattle. (It will) diminish our profit considerably."

"We can do everything right, but if we don't get a little help from Mother Nature, it doesn't matter how good we are," Grove said.

Semler said he expected the dry conditions would prompt some farmers, especially double-crop soybean farmers, to refrain from planting crops this season.

Currently, the long-term Palmer Drought Index labels most of Maryland as a severe drought area, the second driest rating, according to the National Weather Service.

As of June 9, Washington County has received 28.8 inches of rain in the past year. That is 10.4 inches - or 26 percent - below normal.

Weather service data shows that Frederick County's precipitation is 20 percent below normal and Allegany County's is 18 percent below the norm.

Garrett County in far Western Maryland has fared better, with a precipitation level that is 4 percent below normal.

Garrett County tends to draw more moisture because its elevation is an average 2,000 feet higher than that of the surrounding counties, said National Service forecaster Andy Woodcock.

Moisture is more condensed at higher elevations, and therefore precipitation is more likely to accumulate there, he said.

Woodcock said some relief might be in sight for local farmers. The weather forecast calls for light periods of rain tonight and into Thursday, and Woodcock predicted the area would get about one-half inch of rain.

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