WASHINGTON – Maryland small grain production dropped sharply this year, with farmers reporting the lowest average yield for wheat in 24 years and the lowest for barley in 14 years.
The drop is due to a very cold and wet winter and spring that stunted growth and flooded some fields, preventing seeds there from growing at all.
The weather also delayed harvest of small grains for several weeks, according to a report this week from the Maryland Agriculture Statistics Service.
For most small grain farmers, it means “a significant loss of income,” said Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association.
“Nobody made any money growing anything” this year, she said.
The statistics service said farmers reported an average wheat yield of 37 bushels per acre, the lowest since the 1978-79 growing season. The average yield for barley was 57 bushels per acre, the lowest since 1989, when the yield hit 50 bushels per acre.
Maryland wheat usually goes to flour mills in Pennsylvania, but much of this year’s wheat was not good enough for the flour mills and went to feed mills instead, where it fetched much lower prices.
Farmers’ hopes were higher for corn and soybean production, after last year’s drought. Those hopes were dampened by Hurricane Isabel, but the storm did not decimate the crops.
Deputy State Statistician David Knopf said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency predicted a yield only 5 to 15 percent lower than the forecast of 57.2 million bushels for corn and 14.9 million bushels for soybeans. Those levels would have been 77 percent higher for corn and 37 percent higher for soybeans than last year’s drought-ravaged harvest.
Many corn farmers harvested early in order to avoid losing their crop altogether to the storm.
Soybean production was still looking good following the hurricane, but the first frost of the season Thursday night dashed farmers’ hopes for a great harvest.
“The last thing they need this fall is an early winter,” Hoot said. “It seems to be one thing on top of the other.”
“It’s over,” said Jamie Jamison, a wheat, corn and soybean farmer in Montgomery County, who said some of his soybeans were still green when the frost occurred.
“It killed them,” he said.
But Jamison believes he has fared better than most other Maryland farmers this year, because his farm has a cleaner and a drier that got his wheat into “some kind of a condition that the flour mills wanted.”
“I was lucky,” he said.
Despite the difficulties this year, Jamison said he would take it any time over an excessively dry year like 2002.
“With a drought you never stand a chance of ever winning,” he said. “At least this year we’ve got something to cut.”