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Hot, dry weather hurts crops, golf courses

September 23, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

As John Snavely prepares for the next spring/summer season at his Leitersburg Pike garden center, he has no idea what Mother Nature has in store.

Will it be a wet year, unseasonably cold or hot, or will there be precious little rain as has been the summer of 2002?

Farmers, golf course managers and orchardists are among many who have been affected by the scarcity of rain and the abundance of heat this summer.

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Snavely said he always stocks a wide variety of plants, a trick he's learned in his 24 years in the nursery business.

"Our selections are made way ahead of the season, so we can't wait until we know what the season is going to be like to make our orders," Snavely said.

But once those selections are on site, Snavely and his staff rely on advising their customers on what to plant and how to care for those plants based on the conditions.

This summer, Snavely said more drought-resistant varieties have been promoted as the best way to make use of the limited water supply.

"Knowing how to water is the key," Snavely said, stressing that many people overwater their plants. "We developed a watering guide that is available to our customers."

This summer the proper use of mulch has been crucial, Snavely said.

"Bare soil loses more moisture than mulch ... maybe twice as much," Snavely said.

So far this year, 23.33 inches of rain have fallen in Washington County, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site. The rainfall deficit from January 2001 to the present is nearly 16 inches.

"The hot and dry weather has really hurt the size of fruit this year," said Nevin Lewis of Lewis Orchards near Smithsburg. "But the sugar content is really high because of those same factors."

So the crop is smaller but sweeter. Lewis said the fruit is rougher this year too, making it hard to market since most buyers want smooth fruit.

And if that isn't enough, Lewis said the color of fruit is off this year, too.

"You need cool nights and bright days for good color," he said.

Jeff Semler, agriculture/4-H Extension agent for the University of Maryland office in Hagerstown, said farmers and those who raise livestock have endured a very difficult summer.

"Hay production is way off, as are the grains that are being harvested now," Semler said. That means that silage for feeding dairy and beef cattle will be in short supply and will have to be bought this winter.

"And dairy cows, especially, mind the heat and when that happens, their milk production goes down," Semler said. Dry ponds and streams offer little relief to those cattle.

A third-generation Boonsboro farmer, Tracy Thomas said raising beef cattle this year has been challenging, to say the least.

"We are short on hay, wells are drying up and now the price for beef is way down," Thomas said. "It's been rough."

Lack of moisture has also taken its toll on area golf courses this summer.

"Our rough is just about shot," said Terry Haugh, an employee of Black Rock Golf Course at 2005 Mt. Aetna Road. The rough is the area outside the fairways and the greens on a golf course.

Haugh said the fairways and greens are in excellent shape, but the lack of rain has "roughed up" the rough areas to the point that golfers in golf carts are being asked to stay on the paths and out of the rough.

"The carts are digging up the roots, which means that grass won't grow back next year," Haugh said.

He said signs have been put on all the carts advising golf cart operators to stay on the paths.

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