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State Agriculture Commissioner Nathan Rudgers in a 100-year comparison of New York agriculture found that while the numbers of farmers, farms and acreage dropped sharply between 1900 and 2000, a leveling off is occurring and a small rise in the $3 billion industry is possible.

Important cash commodities such as sweet corn, soybean, milk, grape and onion output rose while cow numbers, field corn, oat, potato, wheat acreage fell. In most cases, the drops were at least partly offset by large per unit production gains. Rudgers believes that the state's farm numbers have stabilized at about 38,000, including 8,200 dairy farmers. Rudgers says better management, lower taxes and fewer regulations can stimulate state farming.

Some numbers:

Farms in 1900 -- 226,720; 1999 -- 38,000

Farm acres in 1900 -- 22.6 million; 1999 -- 7.8 million

Dairy farms in 1900 -- 196,000; 1999 -- 8,200

Milk cows in 1900 -- 49 million; 1999 -- 702 million

Milk per cow in 1900 -- 53.5 gallons per year; 1999 -- 201.7 gallons per year

Milk volume in 1900 -- 795 million gallons; 1999 -- 1,400 million gallons

Soybeans in 1900 -- none; 1999 -- 110,000 acres

Grapes in 1900 -- 123,000 tons; 1999 -- 128,000 tons

Apples in 1900 -- 2.2 million pounds; 1999 -- 1 million pounds

Wheat in 1900 -- 404,000 acres; 1999 -- 130,000 acres

Wheat yield in 1900 -- 17.7 bushels per acre; 1999 -- 54 bushels per acre

Potatoes in 1900 -- 410,000 acres; 1999 -- 27,000 acres

Potato yield in 1900 -- 53 cwt. per acre; 1999 -- 270 cwt. per acre

Corn for grain in 1900 -- 845,000 acres; 1999 -- 580,000 acres

Corn yield in 1900 -- 34.2 bushels per acre; 1999 -- 114 bushels per acre

Sweet corn in 1900 -- 14,500 acres; 1999 -- 29,200 acres

Onions in 1900 -- 8,800 acres; 1999 -- 12,500 acres

Hay in 1900 -- 4.9 million acres; 1999 -- 1.4 million acres

Adulterating pure maple syrup with cheap sweeteners and the invasion of the maple tree-attacking Asian Long Horned Beetle are the maple industry's current major worries, says the North American Maple Syrup Council. Roger Sage of Warsaw is the council's New York director. To limit the beetle infestation, nearly 4,000 host maple trees, mainly around New York City, and more than 1,100 around Chicago, have been destroyed. In 1997, some beetles were found in a wood packing box sent from China to a Jamestown manufacturer.

On a plus note, Lew Staats, the state's maple industry extension service specialist, in 1998 set up six test plots in the Lake Placid area to see if the alluring Ginseng plant could be commercially grown. Staats is involved because Ginseng and sugar maple forests seem to thrive in similar habitats. Each plot was split in three parts, each with varying amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen. The first findings are encouraging, but at least another year is needed before any conclusions are reached.

Chocolate lovers, like members of any threatened group, must bravely stand together in the face of a potential shortage. The threatened bean, the fountain of unforgettable taste joy, is under attack in Africa, Asia and South America. Three different virus diseases have stunted cacao bean harvests while some large American candy makers have responded to the chocolate challenge by working with scientists on three continents in the search for virus controls. A "good" fungus is being tested as a bio-hammer, but victory remains out of view. Breeding cacao bushes that resist virus attacks may be the ultimate victory strategy, but that takes time. And, sadly, there's another difficulty. Cacao-growing lands are vanishing. Some fields have lost their fertility and others are being swallowed by commercial development. Worrying along with candy and syrup makers are the dairy and sugar industry people. Converting cacao into chocolate goodies takes thousands of tons of milk and sugar.

New York's Farm Bureau, Grange, Forest Product and Retail Lumber associations are among the 12 organizations that have banded together to represent 90,000 small businesses including farms whose owners seek a balanced settlement of the land claims of the Oneida and Seneca Indian nations. Among the sought settlement terms is that the Indian nations obey the same laws and pay the same taxes as non-Indians.

Barnyard gossip -- Hello, 2000! You don't seem any different from 1999 except maybe that milk prices have dropped again. Dairy farmers under the new federal formula this month will be paid either 27 or 29 cents per quart of drinking milk as compared to 39 cents received late last summer. . . . Speaking in corn-plenty Iowa, alone among GOP presidential aspirants, Sen. John McCain opposed continued subsidizing of corn-based ethanol fuel. . . . Cornell entomologist Michael Hoffmann is the new director of the state's Integrated Pest Management program, succeeding James Tette. IPM aims to reduce farmers' use of chemical insect and disease controls by monitoring crops and spraying only when most effective. . . .Demand for beef and pork products has increased. So have wholesale prices. . . . State Sen. Nancy Larraine Hoffmann presented a $100,000 grant to the New York Horse Council to develop public and private horse trails. The state's horse industry in 1996 had sales valued at $1.7 billion, the Horse Council said. It is working with Hoffmann to pass an "inherent risk" law that would define stable owner liability and limit claims against them. . . . In the afterglow of their congressional victory in the regional milk-pricing dispute, Northeastern dairy farmers should not overlook the economic problems facing Minnesota and Wisconsin dairy farmers.

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