You can't blame David Burton and his neighbors for starting to wonder if they are somehow jinxed.
Only five miles from Burton's farm near Calverton in Fauquier County, there are farmers enjoying average years in their fields -- a few will even produce more crops this year than usual.
But at Burton's farm, the corn is looking parched and stunted; much of it will yield no ears at all. His corn crop, Burton said, will be off approximately 80 percent and maybe more.
Burton and others are victims of a drought that has struck individual farms in Northern Virginia like so many pins on a map, leaving some farmers reeling while others have gone unscathed.
In Fauquier County, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday appealing to Gov. Charles S. Robb to declare the county a disaster area, which would make individual farmers eligible for assistance from the federal government.
In neigboring Prince William County, agricultural extension agent James Gardner said he has written a letter to the county supervisors recommending that they make a similar appeal.
Loudoun County agricultural extension agent William Harrison said yesterday that areas in the southeastern portion of the county have been badly hurt by the drought, but the county has no plans at the moment to apply for assistance.
"It's been very spotty all over the county," said Fauquier extension agent W.C. Brown. "It's tough to figure out. It all depends on who got a shower here and there and who didn't . . . . Just a mile or two up the road can make a big difference."
Countywide, the corn crop will be off at least 50 percent this year, Brown said, and the hay crop may be hit even worse.
Although the drought has struck randomly across the county, the southern portions of Fauquier have been worst hit, according to Brown. In the worst areas, this drought is worse than the 1983 drought for which Fauquier farmers received emergency assistance, he said.
Gardner agreed, citing similar statistics for the western portions of Prince William.
The drought includes a dry spring plus two months when almost no rain fell. This period, which ended last week, was the major cause of disaster, area farmers said. Recent showers and any rain still to come will be too little and far too late to help most crops.
"The damage is already done. There's nothing at all that can help the corn now," said Paul House, a farmer in Nokesville, Prince William County.
Brown agreed, saying that only soybeans and some late-planted hay have anything to gain from further rain this late in the growing season.
House said that, although he is insured if his damage goes above a certain level, the total revenues from his corn, hay, and other crops may be down as much as $200,000 this year.
"You don't sleep much," House said. "You just hope and plan and try to figure out some way to make it through. But it's getting tough."
" . . . farmers feel like they've been hit with a double-whammy, what with the second drought in three years," Brown said. Combined with the low crop prices most are facing, "there really isn't much enthusiasm for the future."
If emergency asssistance is approved, individual farmers will be able to apply for low-interest loans or low-cost feed for their dairy or cattle herds.
Area farmers contacted expressed little enthusiasm for these alternatives. The feed, they said, is of poor quality, and the loans will be no help to those already saddled with high debts.
"I've been in this business long enough to know you don't spend money before you make it," House said. But younger farmers are "already carrying a good bit of debt. Anyone in a financial bind will have trouble making it," he said.
A spokesman for Gov. Robb's office said the Fauquier request will be referred to the state Department of Emergency Services, which will make a recommendation on whether to grant emergency status.
If approved, the governor would make an appeal to the federal government, and assistance would be forthcoming within several weeks, a spokeswoman for the emergency services department said.