- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to ask President Bush today for a disaster declaration for the state’s worsening agricultural drought.

“Farmers have been particularly hard-hit in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore,” Mr. O’Malley said yesterday. “And the loss has been further exacerbated by the fact so many chose to raise corn because of forecasts of what that crop would yield.”

Mr. O’Malley planned to issue the disaster request today in Charles County, where he is meeting with officials in La Plata.

The drought could result in $150 million in crop losses this year and 30 percent to 60 percent losses in the state’s corn and soy crops, said Sue DuPont, Maryland Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

Corn and soybeans are the state’s largest grain crops.

Three Southern Maryland counties are in a severe drought, and 17 other counties are suffering moderate droughts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture drought monitor.

Disaster relief would come through low-interest loans for farmers if approved by the Bush administration, Mrs. DuPont said.

“We need rain and some areas need it desperately,” said U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican who represents many of the Eastern Shore farmland hit by drought. “Farmers are once again in a situation that is beyond their control, but we should be prepared to help.”

Mr. Gilchrest met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns yesterday to lobby for the federal aid.

Maryland Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance, a fifth-generation farmer in Calvert County, said he hasn’t seen a drought like this in almost a quarter-century.

“My corn crop, I figure I’ve lost 80 to 90 percent,” he said this week. “And soy, I have very limited potential for making a crop. We haven’t had significant rainfall where I live for two months.”

Across the state, suburban lawns have turned to straw and officials have asked residents of Mount Airy, Westminster and Frederick to reduce water consumption as the dry weather enters its fourth month.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Maryland’s rainfall deficit ranges from 5.7 inches in Montgomery County to just one-fifth an inch in Kent County.

Even if rain returns soon, corn growers may not benefit, said Dorchester County extension agent Betsy Gallagher.

The drought has also cut into the blue crab harvest this summer, because of the increasing saltiness of the Chesapeake Bay’s water.

The summer slowdown has put a damper on some Maryland crabbers, but projections show the state still might meet last year’s haul of 28 million bushels if crabbers do well this fall. The spotty nature of this year’s catch, combined with higher fuel and bait prices, means crabs this summer are going for $120 a bushel, about 50 percent more than this time last year.

“It’s been kind of a hit-and-miss season,” said Bob Evans, of Shadyside, who has been crabbing at the northernmost stretch of the Chesapeake Bay because of the warmer water. He typically spends July farther south, near Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

The Mid-Atlantic drought, along with warm temperatures, makes the Bay warmer and saltier than usual. Because crabs prefer a certain salinity, they are going north to the cooler, less salty water, watermen say.

n This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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