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Dry conditions persist

August 21, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Whether dealing with days of heavy rain or weeks of dusty dryness, the condition that most concerns farmer David Herbst is heat.

Because that's what kills cows.

"Birthing is a stressor on them, and with a 106-degree heat index, everything has to be just right for them, or they just drop," Herbst said.

Fewer than three weeks after the mercury spiked to nearly triple digits, farmers are dealing with dry conditions just as some of their produce goes to market.

For the year, Hagerstown has recorded 3.5 fewer inches of rain than it normally receives, AccuWeather metereologist Marc Spilde said.

According to a Web site maintained by Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, 0.16 inch of rain fell Saturday. Keefer's Web site at www.i4weather.net shows light amounts of rain also fell Aug. 10 and Aug. 7.

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No rain fell during the last three days of July, according to the site.

"It's been dry this month, no doubt about it," Spilde said.

For Herbst, whose corn actually benefited from record rainfalls in June, the dryness has withered crops and cut down some feed-grain production. The heat, which killed some cows, has had the residual effect of slowing milk production, the Ringgold dairy farmer said.

Henry Allenberg and Donald Harding, who own orchards just miles from each other, reported their fruit trees responded to the weather in different ways.

Other than seeing his sweet corn "zapped" by the dry weather, Harding said he has been pleased with this year's harvest. While the fruit on the apple trees is not yet ripe, the peaches are very good, he said.

"Excellent flavor and excellent size," said Harding, a Ringgold orchardist.

Allenberg said his trees have suffered without water. Neither he nor Harding irrigate their trees, the farmers said.

Allenberg said his fruit is smaller this year.

"It makes for great flavor, but not big fruit," he said.

Mary Stagner, who owns Greensburg Farm Market on Virginia Avenue, said the dry conditions have hurt crop yields. While the fruit is sweeter, some vegetables wither waiting for sale.

"As far as vegetable-wise, it dries it out. When it doesn't have any moisture in it at all, it doesn't keep," she said. Beans that normally last a week now have a shelf life of just about a day, she said.

According to Spilde and Calvin Meadows, of the National Weather Service, the area could see some rain by the end of this month. But it won't be much, Spilde said.

Tropical storms later this month or next could give the area a chance to catch up, Spilde said.

For Allenberg, even some rain would be a relief.

"A couple of inches ... an inch and a half, two inches ... every other week would be ideal, but it's been awhile since we've had any, so we'll take what we can get," he said.

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