Relief eases dry season -- Gazette.Net


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Dorchester County farmer Wendell Meekins counts himself lucky; he has lost probably only 30 percent to 40 percent of his non-irrigated corn crop.

“My father-in-law just came back from North Dakota and South Dakota and told me we are probably, south of Route 50, as good as anybody in the country as far as crops,” Meekins said Thursday.

But because of crop losses projected at 30 percent to more than 50 percent in all but the westernmost part of Maryland, farmers across the state — except in Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties — are eligible to apply for low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency.

The disaster designation, announced Aug. 29 by Maryland's members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, makes it possible for farmers to borrow money to cover as much as 100 percent of their losses, up to a maximum of $500,000.

“Maryland crops have been battered and beaten by devastating drought and record-breaking heat this summer,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski said in a statement announcing U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack had issued the disaster designation that paved the way for Maryland farmers to apply for the low-interest loans.

Meekins might not need the help; his harvest is expected to be much better than that of most farmers in southern Dorchester County and much of the Eastern Shore.

That's because he made a big investment in irrigation equipment, Meekins said. Only about 5 percent of farmers in southern Dorchester have irrigation, he estimated.

There, heavier soils, which hold more moisture, usually make irrigation unnecessary, unlike in the sandier soils of northern Dorchester, where about 80 percent of farmers irrigate, Meekins said.

“Considering, I think we've had an outstanding year. I don't think I lost anything,” except roughly a third of his corn that was not irrigated, Meekins said.

Indeed, said Vanessa Orlando, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland were “the worst” among regions of the state that suffered the double-whammy of high temperatures and a lack of rain during the growing season.

As of Aug. 21, “severe drought conditions” existed on the Eastern Shore of Maryland south of Cecil County, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Many Anne Arundel County corn growers likely are to get only about a 100 bushels per acre, compared with 140 to 150 bushels in a normal year, Anne Arundel County extension agent Dave Myers said Thursday.

Dry and unusally hot weather at the end of June, when corn pollen needed moisture to settle and produce more corn, caused losses, Myers and Meekins said.

Soybeans benefited from rains later in the season, they said. But Meekins needed to irrigate some of his soybeans also, he said.

Soybeans set to be harvested in November, which usually have a smaller yield than soybeans harvested now, benefited particularly from rains that came later in the season, Meekins said.

To see if they are eligible for aid, farmers should contact their local Farm Service Agency office, said Lucie L. Snodgrass, state executive director of the agency.

“This declaration will be a huge relief to Maryland farmers, whose corn and vegetable crops have been ruined,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Dist. 2) of Cockeysville in the statement issued by Maryland's congressional delegation.

mhyslop@gazette.net