Dear William Michulsky of Davison Road, Lockport:
Thanks for your Aug. 2 letter that criticized my Aug. 1 column in which I implied that foreign farm workers are needed because some Americans cannot and others will not do farm labor.
I appreciate people who question what is presented to them. It may surprise you that I agree with some of the points you raise. Yes, some living conditions for migrants are less than optimum, but they didn't start out that way. I have seen what some migrants have done to their housing. But there are fewer of them these days, partly because there are fewer growers and partly because of continuous state inspections.
Assemblyman Dave Seaman may have voted against the field sanitation and drinking water bill, but the bill passed, and Gov. Pataki signed it into law on July 29. Besides, state officials insist that most farmers already are provided those basic facilities.
Yes, some farm workers may only make the minimum wage, but many are paid much more, growers tell me, especially those doing piecework. It is too bad that a man who labors in the hot sun for long hours rarely earns as much as the football star, baseball pitcher or office worker that he helps feed.
On numerous occasions, I have written about the farm labor problem. In truth, most fruit and vegetable farmers cannot produce crops without migrant farm workers. The migrants do work that other Americans shun, possibly for the reasons you cite. Many able Americans will not do this work. That's borne out by the farm labor shortages of 1997 and 1998 and the influx of foreigners. And, yes, some people do exploit migrants, but most do not because they need farm workers.
The problems facing farmers and their employees are everybody's problems. We all are prisoners of the times in which we live. Our era imposes conditions that are better for most people than in the past and probably not as good as they may be as long as people like you raise their voices in protest and are willing to pay the higher food prices.
With an improved foreign-guest farm worker bill apparently on its way to becoming law, the major 1998 issue confronting fruit and vegetable growers is the pesticide use issue. From Aug. 11 to 13, teams from the federal Environmental Protection Administration and the state Department of Environmental Conservation toured 25 Western New York farms to learn how they should apply the new Food Quality Protection Act.
They saw and heard what it takes to grow and sell $256 million worth of farm vegetables and $190 million worth of fruit. In addition to crop rotation and cultivation, commercial growers say they rely on certain chemicals and pesticides to grow crops for the mass market. For example, growers asked the EPA and DEC to continue certain organo-phosphate chemicals as acceptable pesticides unless it can be shown scientifically that their residues, if any, have proved harmful. Why, they asked, should American growers be prevented from using certain chemical controls when their foreign competitors use them. Why can't farmers use the popular chemical Sevin when hobby gardeners can walk into any garden supply store and buy it.
After the multiagency tour, largely organized by Lee Stivers of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service's Lake Plains Vegetable Team, growers appeared hopeful. "The EPA and DEC people who earlier had said they came for advice and field information listened to us," one grower said.
The Willow Biomass Project -- the federally backed program to use hybrid willow tree plantations to augment coal, oil or natural gas to generate electric power -- has taken root in Western New York. Tim Volk, the Biomass Program director for the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, says that 35 acres of hybrid willows have been planted in the Cattaraugus County Town of Leon, and 65 acres have been planted in the Chautauqua County Town of Sheridan. Both plantations are near Niagara Mohawks's coal-steam plant in Dunkirk where after three years they will be harvested, cut to size and burned to generate power.
The method, effective in Europe, is designed to save fossil fuels and give farmers revenue from marginal lands. Volk saids that another 200 acres may be planted in 1999.
Barnyard gossip:It's planned turkeyhood in the U.S. Most of the nearly 399 million gobblers raised each year are the result of artificial insemination. . . . A nearly invisible lead beetle that feeds on ornamental bushes is the latest member of the Local Cornell Cooperative Extension's hit list. . . . Farm Credit of Western New York, recognizing their interest in agriculture and extracurricular endeavors, has awarded $1,000 scholarships to Isaac Habermehl of North Collins, Shannon H. Lacy of Canaseraga and Bryan M. Wilson of Dansville. . . Egg prices rose in July, but wheat, oat and milk prices dropped. . . . Among New York Farm Bureau's current Erie County legislator 'friends' are State Sens. Dale Volker, Mary Lou Rath, and William Stachowski and Assemblymen Richard Anderson, Richard Smith, Robin Schimminger, Thomas M. Reynolds, Sandra Lee With and Paul Tokasz. . . . Prices held strong this week at the 4-H livestock auction at the Erie County Fair. Sorrento Cheese of Buffalo paid $4.25 per pound for the 1,215 pound grand champion steer raised by Roy Sharp of Alden. Thirty-seven other steers sold for an average of $1.31 a pound. Darlene DeFranceso of Clarence paid $5 a pound for the 110-pound grand champion lamb raised by Erica Bieler of Colden. The average for the 75 lambs sold was $1.90 per pound.