- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

From combined dispatches
Maryland's parched, sun-baked farm fields may produce the worst corn crop in more than a decade.
Statistics released yesterday by the state Department of Agriculture estimated bushels per acre will be the lowest since 1993. But those estimates are based on an Aug. 1 survey and there has been no significant rainfall since then.
"As bad as the estimates are, it's already gotten worse. It continues to deteriorate every day that we don't have rain," said Don Vandry, spokesman for the department. "I think it's very possible it will be worse than 1993."
The outlook also is poor for soybeans, tobacco and apples.
Ray Garibay, state statistician for the Maryland Agriculture Statistics Service, said he said he felt like crying when he was out looking at fields on the Eastern Shore last week.
"My dad was a farmer. My grandpa was a farmer," he said. "You see it go from bad to worse and there's not a thing you can do."
Based on the conditions in fields at the beginning of the month, the statistical service, a federal agency, estimated farmers would harvest about 87 bushels of corn per acre, down 49 bushels from last year's yield of 136 bushels. Per-acre production in 1993 was 78 bushels per acre.
Soybean production is expected to be 31 bushels per acre, compared with 39 bushels in 2001. Apple production is estimated at 32 million pounds, down 8.8 million pounds from last year.
The decline is not so severe for tobacco 1,400 pounds per acre compared with 1,500 pounds per acre a year ago.
While it is too late to help the corn crop, Mr. Garibay said there is still time for soybeans to benefit if there is significant rainfall soon.
"We do have some soybeans that still have some vigor. We still have some season left to make a bean crop," he said.
Maryland farmers are not alone in their woes. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released yesterday estimated the national corn crop will be down 7 percent and the soybean crop 9 percent from a year ago.
Mr. Garibay said the drought is financially devastating for farmers, who have a huge investment in their crops.
"We're not talking $10,000 or $15,000. We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars that go into making a crop," he said.
During the past 12 months, rainfall has been 10 to 15 inches below normal across the state. Southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore have been hardest hit.
In Virginia, the lack of rainfall has been good news for farmers who grow grapes for wine.
An exceptionally good 2001 harvest, due in part to the dry conditions, came as wine industries in Virginia and Maryland are gaining national recognition. Rain and wet weather can cause grapevine disease and ruin grapes; drier weather helps produce quality grapes.
"We should be looking pretty good" for the 2002 harvest, said Gordon Murchie, executive director of the Virginia Wineries Association.
Mr. Murchie said Virginia wine growers have used technology to protect their grapes from extreme weather.
As its cottage wine industry evolved to a more professional, commercial operation, it started paying more attention to where grapes were being planted, he said.
Virginia has 72 wineries, up from three in 1971. In 2000, they produced more than 698,000 gallons of wine, or almost 3.5 million bottles, from more than 4,000 tons of grapes. Sales exceeded $38 million in 2000.
That makes Virginia the fifth-largest producer of wine in the country, Mr. Murchie said, behind California, which produces 90 percent of the nation's wine, Oregon, Washington and New York.
Jennifer McCloud has owned the 50-acre Chrysalis Vineyards in the Virginia Piedmont for about three years. She specializes in Spanish and French varietals and the native Virginia grape, the Norton.
"There is a niche here to make unique, distinctive wines that can compete in the world marketplace," she said.

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