Poolesville farmer Jamie Jamison believed he was going to have a “decent crop” of corn and soybeans this year. Then he suffered the summer’s double-whammy of high temperatures coupled with a lack of rain.
“With this 100-degree-plus, 95-degree-plus heat, a lot of the silks, a lot of the pollen has burned off so ears have no kernels on them or half the kernels on them they should have,” Jamison said.
“It’s all contingent upon precipitation. We’ve done everything we can humanly do with respect to weed control, variety selection, insect control. But from now on, we need rains from heaven.”
With much of the Midwest listed as under a drought, Maryland has not received that designation — at least not yet — from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which monitors conditions.
Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Earl F. Hance said he is going to ask federal monitors to do a county-by-county survey based off what he has seen in his travels across the state.
If a region is declared in a drought, Gov. Martin O’Malley can ask for federal assistance, which allows farmers to apply for low-interest loans. The designation also allows for the lifting of restrictions on land in conservation programs, Hance said.
Currently, the USDA lists 13 percent of the corn crop in Maryland in “very poor” condition and 16 percent in “poor” condition.
But what concerns farmers most now are the moisture levels of the soil, which are critical for crops at this stage of their development.
Statewide, 29 percent of the topsoil moisture was listed as “very short,” while another 38 percent is listed as “short.” Only 33 percent of the fields were listed as having adequate topsoil moisture, which is needed to produce healthy crop yields.
In Frostburg, 22.02 inches of rain have fallen so far this year as of July 15, more than 4 inches below normal, while Stevensville on the Eastern Shore has received 15.08 inches, nearly 8 inches below normal.
“We were in Hagerstown, and north of Hagerstown the crops were all burned up and south they were as pretty as they’ve ever been,” Hance said.
Corn is the state’s leading grain crop, with nearly 500,000 acres planted, followed closely by soybeans.
“We’re all praying for rain,” Hance said. “Farmers have got a lot of money invested in these crops that they’ve got on the land.”
Jamison estimated that he might harvest 70 bushels of corn per acre, compared to a good yield of 150 bushels per acre. But he has spoken to friends on the Eastern Shore, where harvests are projected to produce 10 bushels of corn per acre.
“Their fields look devastated,” Jamison said.
“There are a lot of farms with drought-like conditions in the state,” said Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, a trade organization that represents farmers.
Nationally, the drought in the Midwest, ranked one of the worst on record, is driving up corn prices, which normally would have benefited Maryland farmers if not for the long dry spell that many in the state have experienced, Hoot said.
“Prices look high but farmers [in Maryland] aren’t in a position to sell because they aren’t in a position to know what they’ve got yet,” Hoot said.
Rain could help salvage some of the yields for corn and other grains, but it needs to fall soon, she said.
“The crop genetics are such that the corn we’re growing today are a lot more drought tolerant than they were 20 years ago,” said Hoot, who added, “But they still need rain.”