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Green fields plant seeds of hope

July 29, 2000

Green fields plant seeds of hope



By JOSH POLTILOVE / Staff Writer


BOONSBORO - It was a scorcher, more than 90 degrees without a drop of rain, and the land was practically ruined.

It was a typical day last summer when the dairy farmer stood on his shriveled-up grass, thought about his acres of brown, burnt corn and shook his head no.

"It was as bad as I've ever seen in my life and my dad's life, and my dad is 70-some years old," 43-year-old farmer Craig Leggett said. "And it's all based on one thing - rain. We were very, very desperate for a wet season."

Leggett got what he wanted.

This summer, rains have come and his grass grows thick and high.

July 1999 was the third driest July ever recorded in Hagerstown, with only 1.16 inches of rain. According to Greg Keefer's Hagerstown weather Web site, last updated Saturday, there already had been 4.65 inches of rain this month.

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Leggett smiled and said he doesn't anticipate a need for extra silage this winter. His grass is green now, and while he decided not to grow corn, he has 70 acres of giant soybeans and 10-foot tall sorghum sudan grass.

"The amazing thing is, as bad as last season was, this summer is one of the coldest and wettest ever for this farm," he said. "So much for global warming."

Washington County was declared a disaster area Aug. 2, 1999, and millions of dollars were provided to farmers in low-interest loans, but Leggett said he did not take the money since he would have had to take out another loan.

He could have used the money last summer, when his farm grossed between $280,000 and $300,000 in sales but lost $30,000 overall.

In 1998, he grossed $250,000, declaring $18,000 in living expenses. The farm lost $5,000 that year, he said.

Leggett, like his father Clarence before him, has always wanted to own his own farm. Right now he and his wife just rent the land, located at 19933 Lemuel Lane.

But the past three drought-filled summers have forced his dreams to remain just that.

This year's profits can only help so much, he said. He will need three to five years of such rain-filled conditions to return to where he was before.

"It was just about to the point last year where if we had another couple of years of drought, we couldn't stay in the business," Leggett said.

Things have turned around for him and the farm in the past few months, but not completely.

His cows are healthier, which helps each produce about 65 pounds worth of milk every day, about 15 pounds more than last year. But Leggett said milk prices are the lowest they've been in 21 years, so he makes less money for every 100 pounds of milk than he had months ago.

He said milk prices are $12 per hundredweight, $2.50 less for every 100 pounds than last August and $7 less than last January.

Brenda, his wife, said the situation still is better than what it was.

"We're so glad to see all the green grass. It gives us a better outlook," she said. "It's kind of depressing to walk on burnt-up and brown grass."

Craig Leggett isn't depressed now.

"Nobody expected this summer," Leggett said. "We were very fortunate, and we're very thankful."

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