WASHINGTON – Bobby Hutchison has been farming corn and soybeans on the Eastern Shore for 30 years, and says this is the worst harvest he’s ever seen.
“It’s kind of like having your year’s worth of salary on the other side of a glass window, and watching someone set it on fire and not being able to put it out,” he said.
Since mid-August, farmers have known the drought was going to decimate their soybean crops, but only now as they begin harvest are their fears being confirmed.
Hutchison anticipates harvesting only 20 to 40 percent of his soybeans, an “absolute disaster.” He is not sure how much money his farm has lost, but other large farms are out as much as $100,000 and most farmers are seeing losses in “tens of thousands” of dollars, he said.
Numbers released Friday by the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service reflect that grim forecast.
Soybean yield, expected at 21 bushels per acre, is the lowest since 1966, and soybean production, at 10.6 million bushels for the state, is the lowest since 1987, the report said.
Maryland corn production is expected to reach only 33.2 million bushels this year, the lowest level since 1993.
Hutchison said he has seen bad years for each crop before, but never for both at the same time.
“My saying is bad years just get worse,” he said.
It can’t get much worse for the corn crop, which most farmers just finished harvesting. In parts of the Eastern Shore, yield was as down as much as 100 bushels an acre, forcing some farmers to abandon their fields.
Soybean crops were hit hard by the drought, then suffered a second hit from spider mites, which thrive in dry weather. When they attacked the crop in late summer, the already-weak plants tended to “go down pretty fast,” said Talbot County extension agent David Almquist.
Though prices for corn and soybeans are up this year over last August — 51 cents and 87 cents a bushel, respectively — the increase will probably not be enough to offset farmers’ losses.
“It’s a throwaway year. I’m going to end up working all year for nothing,” said Hutchison, who is filing crop insurance claims in the hope of breaking even.
But other farmers were hammered even harder, said Almquist, adding that some may be forced to go out of business.
This year has been especially hard for farmers because it is the latest in a three-year drought, said state statistician Norman Bennett.
Enough rain fell at just the right time to produce bumper crops in 2000 and 2001, but there has not been enough off-season rain in those years to bring up the falling water tables. To fill that deficit for next year, farmers need a lot of continuous rain over the next few months, Bennett said.
“When Mother Nature slams you every year, it’s hard to continue,” Bennett said.