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Rainy May could help ease pain of disastrous 1999 for farmers

May 30, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The drought of 1999 began in earnest in May, but this year, it's a different story.

Rainfall in the last two weeks has boosted the total for May above the average of 3.7 inches, according to local weather observer Jerry Ashway.

Ashway said Tuesday the first half of the month was dry, but recent rains have raised the total for the month to 3.95 inches. Last May, just 1.76 inches of rain fell in the Chambersburg area, he said.

During the prime growing months of May, June and July last year, total rainfall was about five inches, less than half the 11.6 inch average for those months. Ashway said rainfall for the first five months of this year was a little more than 17 inches, or about 115 percent of normal.

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According to the National Weather Service, Franklin County averages about 41 inches of rain a year.

Last year's weather led to a statewide drought disaster declaration by Gov. Tom Ridge in July, followed by a countywide burn ban enacted that same month by the Franklin County Commissioners.

In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared a crop disaster in Franklin and surrounding counties.

The declaration resulted in more than $1 million in grants being paid to more than 300 Franklin County farmers, according to the U.S. Farm Service Agency and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Farmer Titus Martin of Fayetteville, Pa., president of the Franklin County Farm Bureau, decided not to plant corn this year, but not because of the drought.

"I'm an intense grazer," Martin said Tuesday. "In place of corn we planted rye grass as a way of expanding our grass base."

He has about 90 acres planted in grasses and 30 acres in alfalfa.

Rye grass "likes cool damp weather," he said.

Martin said it is replacing the 30 acres of corn he planted in 1999.

Corn was one of the crops hit hardest by the drought. Grasses are less expensive to plant, re-establish themselves annually and "the cows do the work," he said. By grazing his herd, Martin said he spends less on fuel, labor, fertilizer and other expenses.

Martin said his herd of 120 dairy cows grazes an acre or two a day before moving on to another patch of grass.

"I'll tell you in a year if it was a good move," he said.

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