For Drew Stabler, like other farmers in Montgomery and Prince George's, the drought has heaped one problem upon another. He reckons 25 percent of the corn on his fields near Laytonsville has been lost and the damage could reach 40 percent. His pastures are drying up, so he's beginning to use his winter supply of hay to feed his cattle.
But the summer has been so dry the hay is stunted. He cut the crop once earlier in the year, but he could not cut it a second or third time, as he normally does. "This year, when you need it worst," he said, "you don't get any."
State officials say at least a third of the corn crops in both counties will be lost. Cattle and dairy farmers in Montgomery County are suffering from dry pastures and poor hay crops. In Prince George's County, tobacco farmers have reported that rains during the last 10 days may have saved them from severe tobacco losses. Prince George's officials said they had not determined the economic impact of the loss, but it is already estimated at about $6.3 million in Montgomery County.
On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes asked the federal government to declare 21 of the state's 23 counties disaster areas, including Montgomery and Prince George's. According to M. Bruce West, head of the state's crop reporting service, which compiled data on the drought in Maryland, the governor's request follows a determination that a "severe drought" exists in most of Montgomery County and conditions are little better in Prince George's.
Between March 1 and July 18, generally considered the most important growing period for summer crops, only 8.4 inches of rain was recorded in Upper Marlboro, he said, half the normal rainfall of 16.84 inches. "I'd say that was fairly representative of Prince George's County," West said.
Although there were no specific rainfall data available for Montgomery County, West said "there are a few spots in northeastern Montgomery County that look a little better." He added that there are some very dry areas, "especially on the western side of the county."
Montgomery County has a much larger agricultural sales volume than Prince George's. According to a 1982 agricultural census, the latest year for which figures are available, Montgomery's farm sales totaled $25.3 million a year. Livestock and poultry accounted for about half of Montgomery's sales, grain crops about $10 million, and nursery and greenhouse products, such as turf, shrubs and flowers, were worth $3.6 million.
In Prince George's, whose annual agricultural sales were calculated at $16.9 million in 1982, nursery and greenhouse products accounted for annual sales of $6 million, tobacco sold about $5.6 million, corn about $1.45 million and livestock about $2.5 million. In both counties, nursery and greenhouse products generally are irrigated and have been largely unaffected by the drought.
Roland Darcey, who raises tobacco and some corn in Prince George's and St. Mary's counties, said his 100 acres of corn "is not completely gone, but it's severely damaged. I know I won't receive enough to get back my expenses . . . . I have one or two fields I'm not going to put the combine in. It's just going to be a waste of time."
He said his 65 acres of tobacco have made a "remarkable recovery" with the rainfall during in the last 10 days. "If we have normal rainfall for the rest of the summer, I'm looking for a salable crop, or a standard crop. I'm not looking for anything great."
Darcey said tobacco farmers had a frustrating spring, when many of their plants withered and died soon after they were transplanted from seedbeds into the dry fields. Farmers had to replant seedlings several times, he said, which added to the labor and the cost.
"It's been a very, very hard spring," Darcey said. "Never in my life -- I'm 59 years old -- have I seen a spring like this one, when the ground was so hard you couldn't plow it, and you tried to prepare the land and it just stayed dry and dusty."
David Weitzer, another Montgomery farmer, said he believes he has lost about half his corn crop, which he uses to sell and to feed his dairy cattle. Rain last Sunday "was quite a help," he said. "If we hadn't gotten it, I don't know where we'd have wound up. I was just looking at my cornfields . . . and it looked like a third of the stalks didn't have a cob on it. That means there will be no ear of corn on it. But the ones that do have cobs, the rain will help some."