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Heat has Eastern Shore farmers worried about corn crops

PRINCESS ANNE — The intense heat during the past few days has local farmers worried about their corn crops, which are approaching the critical tasseling stage.

“The corn is stressed,” said Richard Nottingham, a University of Maryland Extension Agent in Somerset County. “The leaves are beginning to curl.”

Temperatures above 95 degrees will kill the pollen coming from the tassel, the male part of the plant, which is needed to pollinate the female ear.

Nottingham said most of the local crops are within two weeks of the tasseling stage.

“We’re not at any critical or crucial stage yet,” he said.

The lack of rain in some areas also could have a negative effect on corn, which needs a lot of moisture.

Rainfall in recent weeks has been spotty, with Princess Anne getting about three-tenths of an inch during a thunderstorm last week, but none falling a few miles south in Westover, Nottingham said.

“The folks lucky enough to get thunderstorms are looking good,” he said.

Eddie Johnson of Westover said the land farmed by his son didn’t receive any rain, and his early planting of corn is in trouble.

“Corn is pollinating right now,” he said. “It doesn’t have a chance.”

Locally, this appears to be a “typical year” for corn, Nottingham said. In 2010, Somerset County farmers planted 16,500 acres of it, and about 16,900 acres of soybeans.

Statewide, farmers are reporting similar conditions, said Julie Oberg, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data for the week ending June 24 show Maryland farmers reported 21 percent of the corn crop in excellent condition, 50 percent in good condition and 20 percent in fair condition.

Another 5 percent was rated in poor condition and 4 percent was very poor.

“It’s starting to stress, but it’s not at a critical level,” Oberg said.

While some corn might suffer this summer, Nottingham said, overall, it still is looking better than last year.

Farmers also just harvested one of their best wheat crops during a spring with excellent drying conditions.

“The folks I’ve talked to are real pleased with their wheat yields,” he said.

Soybeans were planted immediately following the wheat, and unlike corn, that crop can better withstand drought and high temperatures.

“The beans are looking fairly good,” Nottingham said.