New crop predictions released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture spelled gloom for Maryland farmers and near doom in Virginia.
"Virginia is terrible," said Chuck Downey, a state crop statistician. "Our predicted corn production is at 65 bushels an acre. That's down 40 bushels from last year, and our acreage is down from 595,000 in 1982 to 375,000 this year."
What it adds up to is trouble for grain farmers in the Old Dominion, where almost no rain fell throughout July in major production areas. They can expect to harvest less than half the feed corn they sent to market last year. Soybean production will be off by about a third, according to USDA's predictions, and tobacco, the state's biggest cash crop, will be down more than 25 percent.
Virginia's major tobacco product, flue-cured, will be at the lowest levels in 100 years, Downey said.
Maryland farmers fared a little better in the USDA's first prediction of the season on 1983 fall crops, but they, too, suffered after the driest July in that state since 1930.
"Our rain deficit for July averaged three inches below normal in most places," said crop statistician Carroll Homann, "and temperatures were 1 to 3 degrees above normal."
As a result, the USDA predicted Maryland corn production will be 87 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels from last year's record yield. With total acreage down by 110,000 acres, largely because of the federal Payment in Kind (PIK) program which encouraged grain farmers to set aside land, the Maryland corn harvest is expected to be 47.9 million bushels, off 32 percent from 1982's 70.6 million bushel crop.
Soybeans and the valuable Maryland tobacco crop are both expected to be off 20 percent from last year.
Corn was hit worst in both states because of the timing of the drought, said Virginia chief statistician Clarence Dunkerley. "It came at a critical time, during pollination," he said, "and we just didn't get good ear production."
Roland Darcey, an Upper Marlboro grain and tobacco farmer, concurred: "The corn dried out right at tasseling time. What ears I've pulled a shuck down on are not filling out. It's just not making corn." He expected about a 60 percent yield on his "good" corn land, and plants on high or gravelly land were all but wiped out, Darcey said.
"The damage to the corn is done," said Darcey. "It could rain till Labor Day but it would only help a little." However, a rain now would help his tobacco considerably, he said.
The drought cut production across the nation, the USDA report said, though Virginia officials felt they were harder hit than most. Some of the financial effects on local farmers thus are expected to be mitigated by higher national grain prices.
But the effects of the higher prices will be felt at the marketplace by everyone. Most of Maryland's corn and soybeans, for example, goes to feed the 9.75 million broiler chickens produced every week on the Eastern Shore, so chicken prices are certain to rise.
And even if farmers get a better price at market, "they're consumers, too," said Homann, the Maryland statistician. "They have to eat, and they'll pay higher prices for their bread and milk and Wheaties, just like everyone else."