- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

HAGERSTOWN, Md. Last week's rain came too late to save much of Maryland's corn crop, which was largely past the critical pollination phase, farmers and agriculture officials said yesterday.

The damage, estimated at more than 50 percent on some Eastern Shore farms, is likely to prompt a state request for drought disaster relief within the next 10 days, said Maryland Department of Agriculture spokesman Donald Vandrey.

"Much of the corn on the Eastern Shore, and all of eastern Maryland from Cecil County on down, is largely unharvestable," Mr. Vandrey said.

He said the scattered showers last Tuesday, Friday and Saturday helped soybeans, which pollinate later and for a longer time than corn. The rain also improved corn that had been planted relatively late and had not yet completed pollination, said Ray Garibay, director of the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

Corn and soybeans typically account for 43 percent of Maryland's total crop production. They are major components of livestock and chicken feed.

It's been a frustrating summer for Robert, Richard and David Hutchison, who farm about 3,600 acres near Cordova in Talbot County. Richard Hutchison said he was grateful for the rain, up to 2.6 inches, that fell last week in the area, but wished it had come sooner.

"It won't make any more corn kernels, but it'll make the ones that are there bigger," he said. "The soybeans need continued rain. They're very small. It's too early to say whether they've made a crop or we'll write them off either one or the other."

About 30 miles north, Edwin Fry Jr. estimated he will harvest half the corn he had hoped to produce on 600 acres near Kennedyville in Talbot County.

It's too soon to know about the soybeans, which cover another 150 acres, he said.

The crops looked better, though, in Anne Arundel County, where Mr. Fry has a smaller farm. "A lot of times, you get a little bit of rain there before it hits the Bay," he said.

The disaster declaration process begins with the Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Agriculture Department that collects county-by-county damage statistics. A meeting to review Maryland's numbers probably will be held late this week or early next week, said Steven A. Connelly, director of the state office.

The numbers are forwarded to the governor, who would make a disaster declaration in consultation with state agriculture officials, Mr. Vandrey said. The governor would then use the data to ask U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman for relief, such as low-interest farm loans.

The U.S. Agriculture Department's latest Drought Monitor Map, released Thursday, shows all of Maryland except Garrett County in a drought ranging from moderate in Allegany to severe in most of the state and extreme in parts of south and central Maryland.

Mr. Garibay's weekly crop-weather report, released yesterday, showed continued deterioration of Maryland's corn crop, with 55 percent rated poor to very poor. Forty-three percent of soybeans were in poor to very poor shape.

July rainfall through Sunday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport totaled 2.26 inches, or 1.59 inches below normal for the month of July.

Below-normal precipitation began in late summer of 2001 and continued through the winter. Rainfall at BWI returned to near-normal in March and April, then dropped off again, registering nearly an inch below normal in both May and June.

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