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Draught Causes Threatened
 Farmers to Seek Help

Ike Wilsom
Frederick News Post

(8/8) Selling farm lots has never been an option for Glad-Ray Farm. Farmland preservation has always been what owners James and Sharon Keilholtz have planned for the future.

James and Sharon Keilholtz of Glad-Ray Farm walk through what's left of their crop.  Lack of rain has left their farm and others in the area greatly under their normal crop yield for the season

But the Keilholtzes' goal may have to be re-evaluated in the wake of severe drought that threatens the farm's yield of corn, hay, soy beans, and other crops, the couple said Tuesday.

Until now, the Keilholtzes said they have never faced a winter knowing they haven't produced and harvested enough feed to sustain the farm. Now, they may have to cull their dairy herd to survive.

"It is disheartening to look at drought-stricken crops day after day and wonder how we will manage to feed our animals this winter, as well as produce quality milk and pay our bills," James Keilholtz said.

The Keilholtzes have e-mailed a letter to local, state and federal legislators and agencies, and Gov. Martin O'Malley, requesting urgent assistance for drought-stricken farming communities of northeastern Frederick and north-western Carroll counties.

"It is beneficial to all to have family farms survive and we ask you to do all you can to expedite relief," the Keilholtzes wrote. "The situation is urgent and if no relief is forthcoming we need to know (in order) to change our business plan immediately. We look forward to your addressing our concern."

Carroll County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Mark Martin responded immediately.

"You certainly hit the nail right on the head about the disaster conditions in both Carroll and Frederick counties with your articulate description of the severity of this situation," Martin wrote. "Unfortunately, our phone is ringing continually with farmers requesting the same information as you. Farmers are visiting our office all day long asking about any possible drought relief. We have let our state office know that we need any and all drought disaster assistance which might be approved at the federal level."

Northeastern Frederick County, which includes Glad-Ray, had been one the worse hit by the drought, said Layne R. Ballard, executive director of Frederick County Farm Services Agency.

Frederick and Carroll County farm service agencies have submitted an application for Emergency Haying and Grazing of Conservation Resource Program acreage in the two counties. If approved, some conservation program participants will be allowed to use conservation land for hay and grazing.

"This would provide limited relief, I know, but this hay or grass might be of some help, particularly to dairy farmers," Martin said.

Ballard said his office has reported crop losses to the state to seek disaster designation from the federal government.

"We'll hear something shortly whether Maryland will be designated for disaster relief," he said.

Disaster relief will provide low-interest loans through the Farm Service Agency and emergency funds will be available for drilling wells for water.

"The real disaster money will have to be approved by Congress," which usually comes two years after approval, Ballard said.

Ballard encouraged farmers with crop insurance to contact their agents.

Crop insurance will help defray some seed cost, Sharon Keilholtz said. But, with the high price for fertilizer and other expenses, crop insurance money will not make up for the financial loss.

The Keilholtzes have owned Glad-Ray Farm and cultivated the same land for more than 100 years, earning the Master Farmer Award several years ago for excellent farming practices, conservation and business management.

"We have received numerous awards for quality milk in the past and take great pride in being stewards of the land," the letter stated."We have willingly instituted all the govern-mental standards for nutrient management and were presented an award by the Frederick Soil Conservation District office. We contribute to our county by conserving open space with a well managed, productive farm"

The farm struggled to survive last year, even with good crops, because the milk price was at a near record low, Sharon Keilholtz said.

Milk prices are excellent this year, but the money is consumed by the increased cost of fuel, fertilizer and seed, along with rising costs of services faced by all consumers, she said.

"What we farmers need is knowledge that real relief is planned and be notified now that it is forthcoming," the letter states. "Otherwise, we will have to consider culling our herd unnecessarily and lose the top quality cow genetics that we have developed for the past 30 years."