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THE STORIES OF THE YEAR

Here are some of Western New York's most newsworthy farm-related stories of the year. While they begin as farm stories, sooner or later they affect everybody.

Federal judge David Doty's November decision voiding distance-based price differentials in 28 federal milk marketing orders threw the industry into a turmoil. If it's carried out, New York dairymen could lose $1 per hundredweight or 8 percent of their income, enough to drive many more out of the industry.

Happily, Doty stayed his order until early February. Meanwhile, Gov. Pataki established a Dairy Task Force that will advise him how to stabilize the state's $1.6 billion farm dairy industry.

State Ag Commissioner Don Davidsen has imposed a $15.25 minimum price for Class I milk, just in case Doty's order stands. Both the Farm Bureau and Grange are urging that New York follow six New England states by establishing a price-setting compact with other states. Some favor joining New England's, while Western New York dairymen prefer a compact with New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Consumer groups and processors object to anything that will increase prices.

Low dairy prices and the reduced number of dairy cattle and dairy farms are underlying factors of a soft rural economy. Farmers will get some help in 1998 when they begin receiving school tax credits and are paying lower workers' compensation premiums.

Another help to farmers and food processors is the pilot program that allows them to choose their own electric power supplier, reducing their power cost.

The continuing shortage of dairy farm workers and the Cooperative Extension Service's attempts to train new workers.

The summerlong efforts of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to detain and deport farm workers who have entered the United States illegally and have been employed by farmers who say they cannot determine whose immigration papers are genuine.

Since April, the Buffalo INS office has picked up 112 illegals and, moreover, said that another 300 illegals had been working on Western New York farms. INS efforts to pick up illegals -- enforcing the law, INS says -- reached a peak Nov. 5, when shots allegedly were fired as INS agents intercepted farm workers and chased those who fled. Farmers also contend that INS agents have harassed migrant workers, some of them legally admitted.

The continuing rise in the fortunes of the farmer-owned Pro-Fac Cooperative and its wholly owned and recently reorganized and renamed Agrilink Foods, formerly Curtice-Burns Foods. While sales fell because certain properties were sold, the resulting lower debt and interest payments contributed to the higher earnings.

Late blight, the virus-carried plant disease blamed for the mid-19th century Irish potato famine, last summer and fall dealt Western New York its sharpest blow, smiting some potatoes and many tomatoes. Late blight infections occurred in several states.

The continued shortage of wild honeybees that pollinate home gardens. Most fruit growers and some vegetable farmers rented bee colonies to pollinate their crops.

The start of a tobacco plantation in the Town of Wilson. Its owner supplies Smokin' Joe Anderson's stores on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, which sells its own lower-priced cigarette packages.

The strong prices of grapes, partly traced to the well-promoted belief that purple grape juice and red wine reduce chances of heart illnesses.

The unwelcome mid-October arrival of snow, cold and mud that made difficult the late harvest of cabbage.

The death of Dick Popp of Southview Farms of Castile, perhaps the state's largest single dairy, and the assumption of its management leadership by John Noble of Noblehurst Farms of Linwood; and the decision of Jim Schotz of Wilson, president of Niagara Milk Co-op, O-AT-KA Milk Products Co-op and Milk for Health, to sell his milking herd. Schotz, soon to be 66, says he will concentrate on raising heifers and corn.

The rising debate between advocates of intensive, high-yielding agriculture that relies on bioengineered plants, synthetic fertilizers and hormones, and the advocates of sustainable and organic farming, over which is the best way to feed the world.

A team from Cornell University's Ag Experiment Station at Geneva battled a band of wild monkeys recently during a trip to high parts of China to collect wild apples. The have been added to the 2,500 different apple varieties already held for plant breeders at the USDA's Plant Genetics Resources Unit (library) at the Geneva campus.

The newly acquired apple germplasms will be used to introduce characteristics such as hardiness, disease and insect resistances to new apple varieties.

Barnyard gossip -- Slower Going, the turnip wise man from Eden and Bliss, wishes all farmers and consumers choice blends of sun, rain and wind in 1998. . . . Corn growers with per-acre yields that ranged from 215 to 334 bushels were winners in the National Corn Growers 1997 yield contest. . . . USDA researchers in Pennsylvania have extracted a cholesterol-fighting oil and a gum from corn kernel hulls. Monsanto has licensed the production technology.

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