David Burton doesn't expect much sympathy for his crusty corn. Not while the rest of Virginia's farmers mourn a more devastating drought. And not while side-walk-sized chasms split Midwestern farm fields.
"I guess there are places much worse off than me," says Burton, a Fauquier County dairy farmer with 250 milking cows and 400 acres of parched corn. "If you didn't have the bad years, you wouldn't appreciate the good ones."
Northern Virginia farmers have adopted a stoic stance in the heat of this summer's drought. While manly of them are suffering, particularly in parts of Fauquier County, they are aware that farmers farther south are faring much worse.
Last month the Virginia Department of Agriculture estimated that state farmers would lose $100 million because of the drought. This week, Agriculture officials said their estimates had been too optimistic.
"A large portion of the Southeastern (Virginia) corn corp is a disater," says S. Mason Carbaugh, the state agriculture commissioner."Soybeans . . . are witlting. Prospects for an excellent peanut crop are diminishing."
After the latest estimates released by agriculture officials projected a possible 50 percent decline in net income for the state's farmers this year, Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton asked the director of the Samll Business Administration to declare a drought disaster in 43 Virginia counties. Under the SBA disaster program, low interest loans could be available to qualified farmers if the federal government agrees the Virginia drought is severe.
Farmers in Maryland have not escaped the drought. Agriculture officials there are predicting a 27 percent reduction in the corn crop and as much as a 30 percent drop in tobacco.The most severe damage has occurred in Southern Maryland and along the Eastern Shore.
But compared to Southern Virginia's plight, farmers in less affected areas seem embarrassed to complain.
"I couldn't honestly say Fauquier was a disaster area," says Dave Brower, a corn and beef-cattle farmer. "I guess I'll only get 60 percent of my corn crop this year, but that's about my break-even point."
Lawrence Greene, however, is a bit less serene than his friend Brower. The 68-year-old Greene complains that the rain which has sprinkled other farms in the county always seems to detour around the cornfields of his dairy farm two miles south of Warrenton.
"I'm in damn bad shape," said Greene this week at a soil and conservation district meeting held in Warrenton at the Warren Green Hotel.
During that meeting Greene and the four other farmers who sit on the district conservation board discussed a dam project the county has been working on for 16 years, leaking ponds and drought relief. After the meeting the farmers discussed a threat to their liveihood more feared than a few rainless weeks -- suburan sprawl.
"I guess this will probably be the next county to become Washington's bedroom," said one farmer who has seen the value of his farmland triple in the last 15 years as Washington's suburbs gobbled up the 50 miles that separates Warrenton from the White House.
"I don't think anything or anyone can do a lot to stop it," admits Sam Butler, who with his brother William runs one of the most successful dairy farms in the county. "You've got to understand, we have Interstate 95 to the south and Rte. 66 on our north.
"The only thing that's saved this county so far is the energy crisis," says Butler, alluding to the increased cost of gasoline and the way it has discouraged long-distance commuting.
Butler has held one of five seats on the county board for the last nine years.During that time the board has vigorously and successfully kept large-scale industry and housing developments out of Fauquier, leaving it a rural refuge for farms and northern wealth.
Like Loudoun County, Fauquier is home to dozens of millionaries, including the Mellons, Harrimans and Duponts, whose manicured estates are clustered mostly around Warrenton.
Maintaining the county's rustic charm has its price -- a lack of local jobs. Fauquier officials say more than one third of the county's work force must travel to jobs beyond the county lines.
"Land use and growth are certainly the issues here," says Steve Crosby, the Fauquier County administrator.
The current drought is not expected to have much effect on the part-time, "gentlemen" farmers who own 50 percent of Fauquier's 836 farms. But there is some fear that severe losses this year could force, or tempt, some of the older farmers to sell their land to the forces of urbanization.
"Once a person has to sell his farm, he has to sell it for the highest dollar" says Sam Butler, kicking at a dry clump of dirt with a rubber-booted foot. "That's what we all live for."
But few agriculture officials in Fauquier are predicting that kind of sellout. While the rain in July was not even enough for the National Weather Service to measure, it did shower enough farms to keep them from the economic disater which threatens the lower portion of the state.
"I may lose half of my corn crop in some places, it depends on the next few weeks," said David Burton pointing a calloused hand at some of the driest corn on his 600 acre Hi-Hope farm.
"I could subdivide now and sit back on my hocks the rest of my life. But I like to farm," he continued, stopping to scan a few gray clouds. "It looks like it might rain."