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Farms feeling effects from lack of rainfall

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ray Claypoole's farm, like many others in Armstrong County, is feeling the effects from a lack of rainfall in in recent weeks.

The Worthington dairy farmer said his first cut of hay yielded about half of what is produced. A second cut reaped about one-fourth of his usual harvest.

Claypoole said he will have to buy hay this year to replenish the stock.

Executive director Ed Huston of the Farm Service Agency's Armstrong County office said what Claypoole is experiencing is in line with most other area farmers. At least 90 percent of the county's 300 farmers have reported a lack of rain affecting their harvest, he said.

"The hay crops are about 50 to 60 percent of normal," Huston said. "Spring grain is really short."

Western Pennsylvania is on the northeast edge of a growing drought that started early this year. The Pittsburgh region received about three inches less rain than normal in May and June, making it the driest late spring in at least the past decade, according to the National Weather Service.

"We've seen less rainfall than normal occurring over the last several weeks," said George McKillop, deputy chief of the National Weather Service's hydrologic services division for the eastern U.S.

The decrease in crops might not stop. The lack of rain around the area has caused some speculation as to how the rest of the growing season will pan out.

"If it's a good year, we usually have enough grain," Claypoole said, but that will depend on rainfall for the remainder of the summer.

Some farmers are hauling water to douse their fields, Huston said. Precipitation hasn't been cooperative or consistent -- some farms could receive an inch of rain in an hour, while another five miles away would barely get a sprinkle, he said.

"It's been so spotty," he said.

Corn also is suffering, Huston said. The population isn't there, he said, and the crops are uneven.

Claypoole said his corn doesn't look too bad right now.

"It's about where it should be," he said.

But Apollo grain farmer John Bowman said if rain doesn't fall for the rest of the summer, his crops could be in danger. Bowman farms 500 acres of corn, oat, wheat and soybeans outside of Apollo.

Tribune-Review writer Allison M. Heinrichs contributed to this report.

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