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Lack of rainfall withers crops, worries farmers

July 20, 2007|by ASHLEY HARTMAN

The lack of rainfall in Franklin and Fulton counties is having a negative effect on crops, causing hardships for consumers and farmers such as Russell McLucas.

Soybeans, corn and alfalfa are particularly at risk in Fulton County because they are some of the major crops there, said McLucas, who owns a farm north of McConnellsburg, Pa.

"Alfalfa yields are off at least 50 percent - we normally get no less than four cuttings, five, I think the most this year will be three cuttings - we'll do very good to get 30 percent on alfalfa," he said.

While McLucas is unsure of how the lack of rainfall will affect soybeans, he believes the damage will be massive.

As for corn, McLucas said, "If we are fortunate, it will be 50 percent (yield)."

That is because corn is in the pollination stage right now, and will not pollinate in temperatures of more than 85 degrees, McLucas said.

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"Corn is tasseling right now, (and) lack of rain causes poor pollination, which means small ears," said Bob Kessler, commercial consumer horticulture agent for the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

McLucas said the first thing the lack of rainfall does to his farm is that it cuts his crop yield in half. Prices then increase for farmers and consumers.

"It's called rationing by price," he said. "As soon as you ration by price - those who cannot afford it are put out of business."

Irrigation is not an option in Fulton County because of the topography of the region and the expense, McLucas said.

In Franklin County, "hay crops are not coming back from the last mowing, which means it will be expensive if you have to buy it," Kessler said.

Grass also is an issue because it requires so much water to grow, and often people do not water enough, Kessler said.

Most vegetables are growing under irrigation, so the lack of rainfall does not hit them too hard, he said.

Kessler said it could take weeks to get back on track with rainfall.

"It takes an inch of rain per week to maintain crops, so it's probably going to take a lot more than that to get them back," Kessler said. "It's very dry right now and it will get drier - it takes more than one thunderstorm to bring things back."

Local weather observers in Waynesboro and Chambersburg, Pa., have noticed a deficiency in rain.

The normal rainfall from January to July in Waynesboro is 24 inches. So far this year, the borough has received 20.94 inches, weather observer Todd Toth said.

Rain in June for Waynesboro totaled 5.04 inches, and for the month of July to date, rainfall is 0.54 inches, Toth said.

"We are at a little bit of a deficit here - we have a deficit of 3.06 inches," he said. "I wouldn't call it a drought, (but) I'm sure the farmers aren't real happy now. We're missing a lot of thunderstorms."

Chambersburg received 3.01 inches of rain in June, and so far in July has received 1.18 inches, weather observer Jerry Ashway said. The average rainfall in June is 4.02 inches, and for July is about 3.7 inches.

"There's some concern as to if this continues - there would have to be some restrictions I'm sure," he said. "You figure 4 inches a month is an inch every week. If you miss those inches each week, you start to get dry."

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