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Drought disaster declared in Maryland

August 23, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

A drought disaster has been declared in Maryland, and the federal government has stepped in to help local growers whose crops were affected by the lack of rain.

Gov. Martin O'Malley requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture make that distinction in July, and officials said it will help provide assistance and financial relief to Maryland farmers affected by the severe dry weather and excessive heat from June 1 through the summer months.

More rain has fallen this month in Hagerstown than in June and July combined.

As of Thursday at 8 p.m., 5.92 inches of rain had fallen so far in August, according to i4weather.net, a Web site maintained by local weather observer Greg Keefer.

In June, 3.48 inches of rain fell, and 2.34 inches of rain fell in July, according to the Web site.

"Probably everything we picked through the first week or so of August was affected by the drought," said Henry Allenberg, who owns Allenberg Orchards in Smithsburg. "In the past two weeks, everything has recovered pretty well for us. The stuff that's getting ripe now had a pretty good drink."

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Allenberg said the size of some of his early peaches and nectarines was affected. However, his peaches and apples on his 125-acre farm look healthy because of the recent rain.

He said that Allenberg Orchards and some other local farms now are using irrigation systems to ensure that their crops get some water even during droughts.

That was the case with all of his vegetables and berries.

"So even though there was a drought, we were coping with it on those," Allenberg said. "So, as bad as it was, it's looking a whole lot better here two or three weeks later."

Allenberg said corn has taken a hit because of the drought, and he said he saw stalks in Emmitsburg, Md., that were 3 feet tall instead of 10.

"That's not going to recover," Allenberg said. "There's a lot of guys that have been hurt worse than me."

Colleen Cashell, executive director of the Washington County Farm Service Agency, said growers have suffered about a 50 percent loss of corn on average due to the drought.

Officials said Maryland's drought disaster designation makes it possible for farm operators to apply for low-interest emergency loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. Affected farmers may contact their local Farm Service Agency for details.

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