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Corn makes comeback

October 13, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

On a farm off Grand Point Road near Chambersburg last week, Clint Burkholder, Mervin Diem and Jason Fisher tossed dozens of old tires on top of a vast plastic sheet covering a silage trench.

Beneath it was about 500 tons of silage, and there was plenty more where that came from.

"It's been a great year," said Stanley Burkholder, Clint's father and owner of Berk-Lea Farm. "Some of the later-planted corn did better than the early corn."

Burkholder is harvesting about 550 acres of corn for silage and 130 more for grain. Some fields are producing 24 or more tons of silage per acre, while the average was about 17 1/2 tons.

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"We more than doubled tonnage," Burkholder said. Last year, his fields produced seven or eight tons per acre "and some were worse than that."

"We're building inventory this year," he said.

"The corn silage is very good this year because it has a lot of grain in it," said Jere Wingert, agronomy and livestock agent with the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service. Corn for grain is abundant, but in many cases, protein content is low because the crop is maturing late.

In 2002, however, stalks produced ears without kernels or did not sprout ears at all, Wingert said.

After last year's drought, 2003 was wet and cool. Farmers could not get to many sodden fields in April and May and some corn was not planted until June, Wingert said.

"We actually didn't have enough heat," Wingert said. Corn needs heat to mature properly and soybeans, a more drought-resistant plant, need plenty of sunshine and high temperatures.

Because fields had plenty of moisture, corn did not sink deep roots, making some susceptible to wind damage, Wingert said.

"We did lose a little bit from the storm ... a couple percent," Donald Martin of Falling Spring Farm near Chambersburg said, referring to Tropical Storm Isabel. Still, he expects an average or better year for grain.

"I would hope, on the average, we get 130 bushels an acre," Martin said.

"Yield-wise, we're not in too bad a shape. Not a bumper crop, but normal or slightly above," Washington County Extension Agent Don Schwartz said. He predicted grain and silage yields in line with what farmers and agents in Franklin County are saying.

Tom Kerr has a stack of crop insurance claim applications on his desk for losses farmers sustained last year. The Franklin County executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, Kerr said he has more than 700, some from producers who own two or more farms. There are about 1,500 farms in the county.

In a normal year, an acre of corn produces 110 bushels or more. Last year, he figures the average was about 25.

"There's some that's going to be 50 or 60 bushels, some 70s, but there's a lot of zeroes in there," Kerr said, pointing to the stack.

Approximately 75,000 acres of corn are planted each year in Franklin County, according to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistics Service. Most is consumed by the dairy herds and other livestock of the farmers, according to Wingert.

Those who graze their animals enjoyed abundant grass in their pastures this year.

"When you're mowing your yard, I'm feeding my cows," said Titus Martin of Fayetteville, Pa.

Kerr said soybeans usually produce about 40 bushels per acre, but averaged about 28 last year. "I bet you don't get any better than that this year," he said, because it was too cool and cloudy.

Schwartz said a frost at the beginning of the month appears not to have hurts beans much, having not penetrated below the leaf canopy.

"The beans I've seen, for the most part, everything is looking good," said William Bennett, with the Farm Service Agency in Berkeley County, W.Va.

"The low temperatures weren't as critical as the lack of sunlight in the spring," Steve Bogash, a commercial horticulture agent in Franklin County, said of the vegetable crop. Tomatoes and other vegetables were planted late and did not produce the desired quality or quantity.

There were fewer of the top quality of tomatoes that are shipped to stores, according to George Cleary, manager of the Cumberland Valley Produce Auction in Shippensburg, Pa.

"Watermelons and cantaloupes came in way too late this season and that affected the price," Cleary said. The melons matured in September, rather than early August, and the demand and prices fall sharply after Labor Day, he said.

The rain did benefit the apple crop, according to Cleary. Despite some of the crop being cracked, bruised or knocked off trees by Tropical Storm Isabel, he said the apples he has seen are large, colorful and full of flavor.

Bennett said there was limited storm damage to Eastern Panhandle orchards, "but the volume is there" for a good crop.

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