The severe drought threatening to put Midwestern farmers out of business is helping those in Virginia and Maryland profit.
The prices of corn, soybeans and some grains that are grown both in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest are soaring as the drought kills off crops from Omaha, Neb., to Chicago. Corn is trading at more than $8 a bushel, compared with the typical $5 a bushel.
Farmers in the western part of Maryland are "going to have good yields and phenomenal prices. These prices are practically unheard of," said Ben Beale, director of the University of Maryland's College of Agricultural and Natural Resources St. Mary's County Extension.
|Virginia crop conditions for the week ending July 29|
|Corn||16 percent||27 percent||30 percent||21 percent||6 percent|
|Soybeans||4 percent||17 percent||36 percent||36 percent||7 percent|
|Flue-cured tobacco||9 percent||13 percent||54 percent||18 percent||6 percent|
|Peanuts||0 percent||0 percent||7 percent||67 percent||26 percent|
|Cotton||0 percent||0 percent||13 percent||58 percent||29 percent|
|Apples||17 percent||1 percent||28 percent||53 percent||1 percent|
|Grapes||0 percent||0 percent||25 percent||74 percent||1 percent|
|Oats||0 percent||0 percent||44 percent||51 percent||5 percent|
|Alfalfa hay||2 percent||10 percent||29 percent||54 percent||5 percent|
|Maryland crop conditions for the week ending July 29|
|Corn||16 percent||16 percent||20 percent||32 percent||16 percent|
|Soybeans||16 percent||19 percent||20 percent||35 percent||10 percent|
|Apples||0 percent||0 percent||18 percent||78 percent||4 percent|
|Peaches||0 percent||4 percent||40 percent||51 percent||5 percent|
He pointed specifically to farms in Howard, Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll, Washington and Allegany counties, which have seen normal levels of rainfall, although the farmlands of the Eastern Shore are experiencing a "severe drought," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. By comparison, roughly a third of the Midwest and more than half of the plains region
are experiencing "extreme" and "exceptional" drought conditions.
Farmers in western and southern Virginia, too, who have not been hit by drought, are likely to profit from the record-high prices, said Steve Blank, who teaches agricultural economics at Virginia Tech.
Even some farmers having drier-than-normal seasons are likely to profit, which is more than can be said for farmers in the Midwest.
"With the price of corn and soybeans the way it is right now, even with the crop below average, we still will be profitable," said Hanover County farmer Chuck McGhee.
McGhee said he's expecting between half and two-thirds of the corn he usually harvests, partly because he irrigated a portion of his crop and partly because of the rain they got.
"We're certainly not taking truckloads of money to the bank," he said, "but we'll live to farm again another year, that's for sure."
In Clear Spring, Md., Steve Ernst said he's in one of the driest parts of Washington County, but he still expects to produce about 70 percent of his normal grain crop. That's better than last year, when he produced just 25 percent of normal, or two years ago, when he produced just 50 percent of his normal harvest.
"I'm old enough to remember a lot of drought years here in the East," Ernst said, though Midwestern farmers haven't seen a major drought since the 1980s, and not one like this since the '30s or '50s.
"In the drought of 2010, I lost seven years of equity in 100 days," he said. "This year, I think we're going to be OK. I think we'll break even, and we'll probably make a little money on the crops."
Dry weather is normal for Virginia, McGhee added.
"The old joke in Virginia is you're always a week away from a drought in the summertime."