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MILK PRICES TOP YEAR'S FARM NEWS

MAJOR FARM events of 1990 include:
The rise and fall of milk prices, the rise in milk supplies, the resumption of large scale federal buying or surplus milk and RCMA's December attempt to revive over-order pricing.

The approval of the new market-tilted farm bill that gives farmers more crop planting flexibility and lower target price deficiency payment prospects.

The fresh emphasis by farmers and other food industry people to respond to the food safety scare-mongers.

The excellent growing year for area corn, hay and vegetables that helped livestock feeders but lowered prices for some vegetables.

The shorter grape crop and moderate apple crop that strengthened prices for both.

The debate over the wisdom of allowing bovine somatotropin to be marketed to boost individual cow milk production.

The apparent near collapse of agriculture in the Soviet Union. In December, the Soviets ordered 651,500 metric tons of corn.

The economic woes of the region's cheese industry triggered early in the year by the high price of milk at a time when rising cheese inventories scuttled prices.

The rising interest in rural environmental protection.

The gradual phasing in of the Canadian-American free trade agreement in farm products.

The ongoing drain of Western New York hardwoods to the export market and the lack of interest by the industry to develop new domestic use strategies.

The Persian Gulf crisis and the resultant fuel price boost that hit farmers and others.

The strong egg market for the diminished number of egg producers.

Low maple syrup production.

The U.S. government has plenty of butter these days. It has never stopped buying it and currently has about 382 million pounds of butter in storage. For a couple of years, butter was about the only dairy commodity that the Commodity Credit Corp., the government's supermarket, was buying. But with the 4 percent milk production rise during 1990, the CCC has resumed buying what dairy farmers cannot sell commercially. The dairy product warehouses again are starting to fill with cheese and non-fat dry (powdered) milk.

Butter purchases have been at high tide regularly since 1983 and the tide continues to rise. People simply have turned away from butter to lower-priced yellow spreads that may have as many calories but less cholesterol. Of course, some people still prefer real butter on their bread and rolls and in their cakes and cookies. The taste is different.

O-AT-KA Milk Products, the farmer-owned, Batavia-based co-op, managed to stay commercial all through 1990. But Jim West-wick, O-AT-KA's sales manager, says that the good times are over. "I think that in 1991, we will have to resume selling butter to the government," he added.

Charles Shaw, leader of the government's dairy buy-all department, told Farmers Market that Uncle Sam will spend an estimated $700 million in 1991 buying butter, milk powder and cheese. This year the United States bought $500 million worth of those products.

As of Dec. 1, the government owned 5.1 million pounds of cheese, doubling its holdings of last June. It buys cheese in 40-pound blocks for $1.11 a pound. Holdings may reach a point where cheese giveaways may be resumed. Powdered milk is being bought at 85 cents per pound and butter brings farmers or their co-ops 98.3 cents per pound.

USDA policy makers would be very happy to find a butter outlet. The ingenious Germans after World War I found a use in their inflated economy: They greased their wagons with butter.

Squeezed like just about everything else, the 72-year-old New York Fruit Testing Co-op at Geneva, the source of many new fruits, has reorganized. The co-op has sold its production land now leased to Cornell's Agriculture Experiment Station and has doubled dues to $10. New manager Elizabeth Munger says that the co-op will concentrate more on newer varieties of fruits, selling them to members.

Among 18 eating apples listed in its new catalog are New York 723, an Empire-Holly Cross; New York 727, a cold-resistant variety; and Sweet Sixteen, a crisp, firm, fire-blight-resistant variety.

Information about eight plum, two nectarine, one peach, four grape and three pear trees is available from the Geneva organization.

The tree prices range from $17 each to as low as $3.95 each for purchases of more than 100 trees. Grape prices range from $2.50 to $6, again depending on variety. Raspberry bushes sell for 89 cents to $3.50 and strawberry plants from 12 to 38 cents per plant.

Barnyard gossip -- From the top crossbar of the barnyard fence: A warm sun, gentle rains and a happy new year to all. . . . The 1990 farm bill offers growers incentives to produce oil-rich sunflowers, mustard, canola and safflower, but the experts say it will take a while for much of an increase in those varieties to show up. . . . Upstate potato production hit 5.9 million hundredweight this year, 26 percent above last year's mark. . . . Cornell economists say that only large-size herds will be able to operate profitably if milk prices drop by $3 per hundredweight. . . . The state Department of Agriculture & Markets has ended its Seal of Quality, Farm Net, roadside market and research grant programs in chopping $2.8 million from its budget. . . . Wheat growers in 1991 will be allowed to collect quarterly payments for storing wheat on their farms until they decide to sell the wheat or pay off loans. . . . Genetics of California has acquired Holstein bulls from Walter Faryna of Perry and Vista-Views Farms of Strykersville for testing in its breeding program.

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