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Weather delights farmers

September 21, 2000

Weather delights farmers



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


From hot and dry to cool and wet. From farmers' nightmare to farmers' delight. From summer 1999 to summer 2000.

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"What a difference a year makes," said Don Schwartz, an agriculture extension agent at the Maryland Cooperative Extension office in Washington County.

The summer of 2000, which ends this afternoon with the autumnal equinox, will be remembered for its rain and scarcity of scorching summer days.

"Compared to last year it's wonderful," said Harry Strite, a dairy farmer who works about 260 acres near Williamsport.

Last year Strite had to buy additional hay for his herd and irrigated his fields from May through September.

This year, he said, he never had to haul the irrigation equipment out of the shed.

During the summer of 1999, area farmers battled drought conditions and residents suffered through a record number of July days above 90 degrees. The 23 days during July 1999 on which the temperature reached 90 degrees set a Hagerstown record for any month.

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According to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, July 2000 was the first July on record during which the mercury never reached 90 degrees in the city. Record keeping began in 1898.

Hagerstown also had about double the rainfall in June, July and August 2000 that it did during those months in 1999.

According to Keefer's statistics, about 7.4 inches of rain fell in that three-month period last year. This year about 13.8 inches of rain fell in June, July and August.

One sign of the wet weather is the Washington County water table, which is 2- to 4-feet higher than it was last year, according to U.S. Geological Survey statistics.

Another is the healthy crops coming from area farms.

"Everything's green and everything's growing," said Henry Allenberg, who grows apples, peaches, pears, raspberries and blueberries on his 100-acre orchard near Smithsburg.

Allenberg, whose been in the orchard business for more than 25 years, said it was "one of the best growing seasons" he's seen.

The consistent rains have produced larger than normal fruit, he said.

Strite said on a scale of one to 10, the summer growing season rates a nine.

"We're just thankful and appreciate the rain," Strite said.

Schwartz, whose been watching Washington County crop conditions for about 15 years, said the season rates between an eight and nine out of 10.

"We do have one dickens of a great corn crop here in the county," Schwartz said.

But Schwartz said the cool temperatures and scarcity of sunshine have caused some disease problems for crops and some soy beans haven't ripened yet.

"It wasn't that it rained too much. But it would rain a little and then stay cloudy," he said.

"Farmers are going to bellyache about something. But all in all, folks will look back on 2000 and say that was a good growing year We could use a few of these in a row," Schwartz said.

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