BERLIN – Local farm fields still look green in some of Worcester County, but corn, hay and soybeans are taking a beating from the heat and lack of rain.
“Where you’re growing crops you’re hurting. The bulk of the county is dry,” said Eddie Johnson, the Wicomico County extension agent who handles crops for the area.
Worcester County is down about seven inches of rain since January.
Corn is spotty throughout the county, with the northern part getting some rain, but the south seeing none.
“You need 22 inches of rain to grow a corn crop but if it all comes in August and September it doesn’t help your corn crop,” Johnson said.
Early planted corn has already tassled and silked, part of he pollination process, and the heat has come at absolutely the worst time.
“At 90 degrees, corn doesn’t pollinate,” said farmer and County Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “The silk only stays moist about four to five days.”
Wheat is about the only crop that has done well, but the wheat was “made” as agriculture experts say, before the summer heated up. The rest of the region’s crops are suffering.
“The heat and humidity are hurting your vegetables. They’re causing them to ripen too fast,” said Johnson. “Your corn’s rolled tight. That’s the plant’s mechanism to keep out the sun.”
Hay is in trouble, with the temperature and humidity bleaching the plants, rather than letting them dry, Johnson said. Alfalfa fields are more vulnerable in those conditions, because they do not have enough water to grow roots deep enough, fast enough. “The alfalfa could not just get ahead of the weeds,” Johnson said.
Dairy and beef farmers are wondering where their cattle feed will come from next year.
“Some of them are looking at baling straw to feed their cows. Maybe some cows will go to market,” said Johnson.
Soybeans are still young, but are just not growing bigger, he said, without enough water in the heat.
Farmers are seeking alternatives, but finding few that are affordable.
“Some are looking at irrigation. It’s expensive. It costs about $2 per inch of water,” Johnson said.
Soybeans could still do well if the weather improves, said Shockley, but in the southern part of the county, the corn crop is already down by half from lack of rain and probably loses another 5 percent of yield every day without rain.
“It doesn’t matter what price the bushel of corn is if you don’t have the yield,” Shockley said.