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Area crops battling hot weather, lack of rain

July 13, 2010|By JEFF SEMLER

In February when we were pushing snow around, it was hard to imagine this heat and dry weather we are "enjoying" now.

It is the combination of these factors that are so devastating.

We grow both warm season and cool season crops. The warm season crops such as corn thrive in warm and even hot weather, but they still require moisture.

Our cool season crops, such as our pasture grass or your front lawn, go dormant in the hot weather but usually remain green when they get rain.

This is why as the season progresses we go from mowing weekly or even twice a week in the spring to every other week in the dog days of summer.

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With this high heat and little to no rain, the root zones or soil heats up and makes it extremely difficult on our plants. Again, several soaking showers and our corn and soybeans will perk up.

It is the not only the rain that is important, but how we receive it.

On more than one occasion in this column have I stated annual rainfall is one of the most useless statistics we keep. I don't know about you, but I don't think rain clouds nor water tables use a calendar nor do they even know what month it is.

Our ground water table is actually doing fairly well because of our abundant snowfall and the slow way it melted and soaked into the ground. While our wells are hundreds of feet deep, our plants only send roots several feet into the soil and therein lies the problem.

I really get tickled when the weatherman comes on the television and says we are a certain number of inches behind or ahead with regard to annual precipitation. According to the June 27 report, Hagerstown is 4.22 inches of precipitation below normal and is averaging 11 degrees above normal.

If we get say 2 inches of rain in the next week to 10 days our crops will snap right back and we may well see normal or above normal crop yields even though we are still 2 inches below normal for precipitation.

The other consideration is how the rain arrives. If we get cloud burst in the order of one-half to 1 inch of rain in an hour then with our hard dry ground we get a lot of runoff. Our fields don't get much greener but our drainage ditches sure do. What we need is soaking rain.

While I never wish ill on anyone, I would not be against the tail end of a tropical storm to scoot up across our area and set in and rain a couple of days. I certainly am not hoping for any devastation along our coastlines in order for that to happen.

And while the long-range forecast does not look promising, I hope as you read this article you have enjoyed a wet weekend or at least a rainy Tuesday. Weather patterns can change quickly and it is one of the things we as humans cannot control. It serves to keep us humble.

So no matter if you have a golf date or a picnic scheduled, I trust you will join me in praying for rain.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu">jsemler@umd.edu

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