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Pa. farms file crop reports

August 03, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - When Tom Kerr files his crop report on Friday, it will confirm what most Franklin County farmers already know: The summer of 1999 has been a disaster.

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"We are in a big disaster as far as I'm concerned," Kerr said Tuesday.

On Monday, United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman declared all of West Virginia a federal agricultural disaster area along with Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland and four counties in Pennsylvania.

Franklin and Fulton counties were not named in the declaration, but Kerr said the county qualifies with losses expected to exceed 30 percent for several commodities. Losses of 30 percent of more for any one commodity would qualify farmers for disaster assistance, according to Kerr.

"We're estimating right now the grain crop will be 50 to 60 percent less this year," Kerr said.

During a normal year, an acre would be expected to produce about 89 bushels of corn, but this year the yield will likely be 40 to 45 bushels, he said. Ears will be smaller and there will be fewer kernels.

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An acre would normally produce about 17 tons of silage, made up of the entire stalks and ears. This summer his estimate is 8.5 tons of silage per acre.

In 1997, the last year for which figures were available, an acre of corn produced 107 bushels. Corn for silage was valued at $14 million that year and corn for grain was worth about $8 million, he said.

Soybeans, another of the county's major crops, usually produce about 36 bushels an acre. Kerr said his estimate for this summer is 15 bushels. In 1997 soybeans averaged 37 bushels an acre and were worth about $3 million.

The situation is made worse by some of the lowest commodity prices of the decade, according to Kerr, who said the national average for corn is about $2.10 a bushel, compared to an average most years of about $3. Soybeans used to average $6 to $7 a bushel, but are now at about $4.50.

Kerr said the national average for corn could drop well below $2 by the fall, although local prices are usually higher.

He said many farmers rely on what they grow to feed their livestock. With crops coming up short, they will have to spend money for shelled corn, hay and other feed in the fall.

"Silos may not be full. Availability could be a problem," Kerr said. He said he talked with one farmer who had signed a contract to buy $7,000 worth of hay from the Midwest to make sure he had adequate supplies.

"The dairy farmers are out lining up their neighbors for as much corn as they can get," he said.

"We haven't started harvesting our corn yet, but it's going to be a below average year for sure," said Dale Mummert, whose father Kenneth has a farm near Chambersburg. "We've already started purchasing dry corn so we'll have enough for the fall," he said.

Mummert said milk prices have been soft recently, about $12 per hundredweight. If the price increases to $15 or $16 later this year, it will help farmers who need to buy additional feed, he said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge declared a drought emergency for Franklin, Fulton and 53 other counties in the state in July.

Local weather observer Jerry Ashway of Chambersburg said rainfall for the month was 1.06 inches, compared to the average of 3.74 inches. He said the rainfall deficit since May 1 has been 6.7 inches.

High temperatures in July usually average 85 degrees, but the average was 92.5 last month, Ashway said. Temperatures hit 100 or more four times.

Kerr's crop disaster report will go to the Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency on Friday. The USDA's State Emergency Board will look over the reports and determine which counties qualify for disaster assistance. An announcement on which counties qualify is expected by Aug. 13.

Once disaster status is granted, Kerr said farmers would be eligible to apply for emergency loans. The Direct Emergency loan program would allow farmers to borrow up to $500,000 at 3.75 percent interest to pay essential operating costs. The loans could be repaid over seven years.

Kerr said he has also gotten calls from about eight farmers regarding emergency feed assistance. If approved by Congress, eligible farmers could receive federal grants for feed. That assistance could be in the form of a check or actual deliveries of grain, he said.

Crop disaster insurance will help many farmers, according to Kerr. He estimated more than 60 percent have insurance thanks to a USDA incentive program that allowed them to increase coverage from 65 percent to 75 percent of their crop at practically no additional cost.

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