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For all too many, drought was the big farm story of 1999. The mid-summer dry weather affected Western New York farmers less than those in the state's eastern and southern regions and far less than farmers in other eastern states. The drought did draw national attention to the Northeast's substantial farm economy with its dairy, fruit, grain, horticulture, vegetable and wine industries. And while bad weather -- freezes and wind storms -- occasionally does strike New York farmers, rarely have they been hurt as much as farmers in eastern North Carolina whose lands were inundated by Hurricane Floyd.

Other 1999 farm news:

Washington's nearly $9 billion emergency cash response to farmers' weather and low grain and livestock price woes shows that government remains a necessary player in the farm economy. Clearly, Washington's well-intentioned attempt to get out of the farm economy with the 1996 farm law failed. In our imperfect economy, farmers and consumers do need a government security blanket.

New York dairy farmers and those in states other than five Upper Midwest states won a victory when Congress overturned the Clinton administration's milk-pricing reform in favor of the so-called Option 1-A that largely retained the existing milk-pricing methods. Option 1-A advocates included both U.S. senators from New York, all Western New York congressmen, the Pataki administration and New York Farm Bureau. They argued that the rejected Clinton administration milk-pricing reform annually would have cost New York's 8,200 dairy farmers an average of $8,000 or about $30 million. But Wisconsin and Minnesota congressmen, whose dairy farmers claim that the current milk-pricing method is unfair to them, plan to renew their pricing fight in the upcoming congressional session.

Congress refused to allow New York and three other states to join New England's safety net, price-setting Northeast Dairy Compact. But Congress did extend the compact's life 22 months over strong opposition from Wisconsin and Minnesota dairy farmers who would like to sell their milk in the East.

The widespread debate over the safety of genetically modified crops such as corn and soybeans continues to rage with federal regulatory officials and seed producers on one side. On the other are groups who insist that the ultimate environmental consequences of genetically modified crops is unknown. To date, no one has demonstrated evil effects from genetically modified crops.

In the latest crossfire, a lawsuit against the Monsanto Co. filed in Washington alleges that the seed and farm chemical company rushed its genetically modified seed to market without full study and that Monsanto and its corporate allies are trying corner the world corn and soybean seed markets. One lawsuit backer is Jeremy Rifkin who has opposed most bio-technical changes. Is Rifkin a roadblock to progress or a sentinel for safety?

Through continued expansions, the Western New York-founded and based Pro-Fac Cooperative, through its Agrilink and AgriPac subsidiaries, has emerged as a major player ($1.23 billion sales in 1999) in the fruit, vegetable, canned meat and snack foods industries.

Mid-autumn's fine weather enabled grape farmers to harvest a crop that was higher than expected both in quality and quantity. The weather also helped cabbage growers pick a decent-sized crop.

The year is ending for farmers with a challenge from one political leader and a promise from another. At the New York Farm Bureau's annual meeting, U.S. Sen. Charles (call me Chuck) Schumer, the Brooklyn Democrat who since taking office has taken pains to heed farmer concerns, asked farmers to help him identify the few growers who fail to treat their farm workers as they should. Republican Gov. George Pataki, who grew up on a farm and already had approved tax breaks and exemptions for farmers, promised to work an additional $12 million worth of exemptions on sales and utility costs. Both men drew praise from Farm Bureau president John Lincoln.

Clark and Sue Phillips, "retired" Brant dairy farmers, are completing the second year of their monumentally charitable task of establishing a working dairy farm and school at a rural Romanian orphanage. So far, so good. They have 30 milking cows, a start toward a 300-cow herd. They need lots of things -- cows, equipment, children's clothing, toys. But cash is the easiest to give. Make checks payable to Full Gospel Tabernacle, 3210 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park, N.Y. 14127. The name "Cominal Felix Dairy Project" should also appear on the check.

Barnyard gossip -- For those who have the time on this Christmas Saturday to read this far, have a merry and healthy one and a great 2000, the last year of the second millennium. . . . Tidings for 2000: The demand for and the price of beef is rising and pressure to legalize the controlled growing of hemp continues. . . . The CBS "60 Minutes" TV show Sunday criticized the way Tyson and Perdue chicken processors and marketers deal with farmers and employees. . . . Oxfarm America, a poor people's advocacy group, argues that the United States spends too much on farm export subsidies, that the European governments spend far more to subsidize their growers and that both farm powers spend so that developing nations cannot compete in the export market. . . . The fifth annual Maple Producers Conference is scheduled to start with an 8:15 a.m. registration Jan. 8 at the Vernon-Verona-Aherrill High School on Route 31, Verona, east of Oneida. Admission is $7. . . . A University of Georgia researcher used waterbeds to show that dairy cow comfort increases milk production. . . . Sustainable agriculture advocates are disappointed with Congress for skimpy 2000 budgeting for their programs. . . . The Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, a unit named for an innovative former ag secretary, takes a sharply negative view of changes brought by new bio-technology.

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