MAKE NO mistake: Farms are food, farms are business, farms are open space, farms are jobs, and farmland for both hard and soft reasons ought to be protected and preserved. The supermarket is merely the next-to-the-last stop in the human food chain that begins on the farm. For one reason or another we are losing too many farms. The Family Farm Preservation Act of 1990 is a measure to end one of them. A measure to reduce farm property taxes, it has bi-partisan backing in the state legislature. Assemblyman William L. Parment, D-Chautauqua, chairman of the Assembly Ag Committee, is joining Sen. John R. Kuhl, R-Steuben, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, in introducing the measure. One basis for the bill is a study that shows New York farmers averaging $16 per acre in taxes as against an $8 average for the rest of the nation. The measure first introduced in 1989 would limit a farmer's property taxes to 7 percent of adjusted household income. Property taxes are a large part of farm costs.
After a series of party line votes, the Senate Ag Committee has rejected Democratic proposals to increase farm price support subsidies in the 1990 farm bill now being drafted. Two Democrats voted with Republicans to freeze price supports. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., said that agriculture must bear its share of budget reductions. Subsidies generally go to grain producers, dairy farmers (when surpluses are high and market prices are low) and farmers who sustain weather-induced disasters. The federal government also funds farmers who engage in conservation practices and land retirement. Among farmers who are not subsidized are fruit and vegetable growers.
As if we don't already have enough evidence that New York's farms need a boost, comes word now that consumer milk prices in the Southeast -- 13 states east and north from Florida -- will rise sharply because farmers are deserting the industry, largely for money reasons. It has been happening here, too. When earnings don't measure up to labors, people find other things to do. The hot and, in some areas, too-dry weather in the South hasn't helped either. Production dropped 3.49 percent during the first quarter of 1990, says the USDA. Last fall, millions of pounds of milk were trucked from the Midwest to the Southeast to help meet a rising demand for milk products.
About 300 apple growers this week spent three days in Western New York touring major apple farms in Orleans and Wayne counties and Cornell's Geneva Ag Experiment Station. The tour by the International Dwarf Tree Fruit Association was a compliment to the region. Marty Michaelson of United Apple Sales, an outfit that sells apples raised in all parts of New York, said that the production and sales potential in Western New York continues to move ahead of the Hudson Valley and Eastern New York. And the percentage of fresh market sales is rising. George Lamont of Albion described techniques he uses on his 600 apple acres. Darrel Oakes and Dan Thurber discussed aims and practices at the 250-acre Lynoaken Farm outside Lyndonville. Thurber said that although good fresh market apple pickers can earn up to $12 an hour, recruiting them from the South is becoming more difficult.
Dr. Terrence Robinson of Cornell invited growers to inspect his four-acre demonstration orchard on the Lynoaken Farm on the Alps Road outside Lyndonville. He's testing five different ways to raise trees so that they catch the maximum amount of all-important sunlight.
Perfect weather for farmers rarely occurs. Too much or too little heat or moisture is the general condition. Except for one crop, Western New York's weather this spring has been relatively good. The warm weather of March hurt the maple syrup industry, but that has been the only disappointment so far. Farmers did manage to get their corn in, a shade late for some. Local vegetables are off to a good start. Eden Valley growers have raised and are selling some splendid leaf lettuce in local supermarkets. The fruit trees generally survived the winter and spring. The strawberries have been great. Last week gave dairy farmers a chance to chop and store a top-quality first cutting of hay.
Contrast these with conditions in Illinois, Missouri and Michigan, where there has been too much rain, and in California, Colorado and the Dakotas, where, despite one "million-dollar" rain, excessively dry weather persists.
The country slickers are still at it, says the USDA. Hundreds of farmers are still sneaking past the $50,000 subsidy limit, according to the USDA's Inspector General's office. Some farms owned by single-person corporations literally "farmed the system" by re-organizing into multiperson partnerships to collect more federal money. The Inspector General study of 1,644 "persons" showed that $1.26 million of $2.31 million payouts exceeded the law's limits. Some slickers have slipped in their slime. Audits so far have resulted in 224 indictments, 388 convictions and $23 million in fines, restitutions and recoveries.
Now that strawberries are well begun and raspberries and cherries just over the July horizon, we can start thinking about peaches. And, as one long-gone newscaster used to say, "There's good news today." The New York peach crop, largely in Western New York, is forecast by the state Agricultural Statistics Service at 13 million pounds, about 4 percent greater than last year's crop. They benefited from an early bloom. Elsewhere, Georgia production is up, but South Carolina peach production fell sharply.
Area farmers this year are required to pay a minimum of $3.80 per hour for adult workers. Youth workers, 16- and 17-year-olds, may be paid $2.85 if this is their first year of harvest work, $3 in their second year and $3.35 in their third year of harvest work. Non-harvest youth workers are to be paid no less than $2.85 per hour for their first 100 hours of labor and the regular minimum wage thereafter. Youths under 16 who have the required farm work permit are to be paid $2.50 per hour, according to information released by Joan Petzen, a Cattaraugus County Cooperative Extension agent, but may not work more than 20 hours a week during the school year and in no case more than 40 hours.
Barnyard gossip -- First-week picking brought Western New York the best-looking, best-tasting strawberries in years. . . . Class I (drinking) milk in July will earn dairy farmers about 32 cents a quart, a penny above June's levels. . . . The Senate and House Ag Committees have approved a $10.10 minimum milk price support for the next five years. They recommend a 7 billion pound surplus trigger for action by the secretary of agriculture to discourage production by means other than whole-herd buyout and cow slaughter. . . . Steve George, 15, a Delevan 4-H Club member, is one of 29 Americans who will be in Australia until Aug. 1 as an international 4-H youth exchange ambassador. . . . New York has 90 wineries, most of which use their own grapes to make their wines. Eight of the wineries are in Western New York. This year some 300 winery direction signs have been posted to help motorists find their way to them. . . . Among the new members of the USDA Science Hall of Fame is Robert W. Holley, a 1968 Nobel Prize winner whose work at the USDA's Ithaca lab uncovered the class of ribonucleic acids, a unit in the body's instructional system for protein production. . . . Midwestern rains have slowed some corn planting, causing the USDA specialists tentatively to predict a draw-down in American grain stockpile may shrink a bit more. . . . Gordon Conklin said it: Low-input farms often have low output. No more does King Cotton reign in the South. Five of the nation's top six cotton counties are now in California. The sixth is in Arizona. . . . Huge feedlots, like the Conagra-owned Monfort operations in Colorado with 100,000 or more beef cattle in them at any time, now dominate the nation's beef industry. . . . Ann Marie Slocum of Sodus is the Western New York Apple Queen for 1990, and Chris Dingfelder of Williamson is the Cherry Queen. . . . The USDA says that the first of the Africanized bees migrating north from South America may have reached Texas, but advises people not to worry because the chances of being stung by one are far less than the likelihood of being struck by lightning. . . . In 1954, tobacco was grown on 150,000 North Carolina farms. But a 1987 count showed that only 22,000 farms still raised tobacco, and the number continues to shrink.