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AT THE CORE OF DIVERSITY, TURKISH SEEDS

In a genuine back-to-the-future journey, two fruit scientists based at the state's Geneva Ag Experiment Station last September spent three weeks in rural Turkey collecting seeds and scions (small leafy branches) from apple trees that are survivors of trees spread centuries ago by traders who trudged the Asia-to-Europe Silk Road.

Phil Forsline and Herb Aldwinkle brought back 30,000 seeds from 62 wild apple specimens they found in six areas. The recovered and dried seeds, weighing less than a pound, were dubbed "green gold." They will help preserve a diminishing apple genetic diversity and supply a crucial resource for future apple breeding. The importance of these seeds is that their genetic make-up enabled them to survive the insect, disease and weather hazards that wiped out other trees. These traits -- after necessary and years-long assessments -- may be bred into the genetic make-up of the successor apples to today's Cortland, McIntosh, Jonagold, Delicious, Idared, etc., varieties. The 1999 trip was the seventh search for forgotten apple varieties. Apples are believed to have originated in Central Asia or China. The seed seekers obtained permission from host nations and shared their findings with them. The recovered apple germplasm -- along with those of other fruits, veggies and flowers -- will be stored in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Genetic Resource Units, one of which is in Geneva. Another is in Fort Collins, Colo.

Maple syrup producers today are launching the state's first farm crop of the year (and the last of the 20th century and second millennium) with a satellite telecast. The 2000 Maple Production School will begin at 9:20 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. for those attending the farm and home centers at Ellicottville and Warsaw. The session, co-sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers Association, Cornell Cooperative Extension, will be led by maple specialists Lew Staats and Nancy Fey. Also likely to be heard are association president Eric Randall Darien and secretary Lyle Merle of Attica. New York's 2,000 commercial producers including perhaps 300 in Western New York this year boiled about 195,000 gallons of syrup that had a farm value of $5 million. Consumers paid anywhere from $28 to $40 a gallon. The 1998 season was better. The 230,000 gallons boiled down was valued by the State Ag Statistics Service at $6.2 million. No one can guess the size and value of the 2000 syrup volume any more than the likelihood that the late winter cold night-warm day ideal sap-flow weather can be forecast.

Last year's dry bean (light red kidney, dark red and black) production fell 3 percent to 414,000 hundredweight. They were grown on 30,200 acres with an average yield of 1,370 pounds, down 42 pounds from the 1998 mark. Nationally, yields average 1,781 pounds per acre. Total production reached 5.77 million hundredweight. Protein-rich dry beans are sold domestically and in nearby Latin American markets.

Up to now, thinking about cranberries has stirred consumers thoughts of a turkey side dish or a zesty flavored fruit drink. Economists may think of Massachusetts where cranberries are the base of a $200 million industry or even Wisconsin where cranberries also are gown. But now New York may enter the mind-screen. Cornell-Geneva entomologists and former students have developed insect sex attractants (pheromones) to trap males of five different beetles whose larvae have been feasting on cranberry roots, shrinking production. Perhaps more exciting is the $100,000 appropriated by the 1999 Legislature to study the prospects for growing cranberries in New York. Two cranberry bogs in Oswego County will be evaluated by the Cooperative Extension Service to decide whether cranberries can be grown commercially in New York.

Barnyard gossip -- New York Farm Bureau's 30,000 farm family members cheered Gov. Pataki's proposal to exempt all farm-related purchases from the sales tax. . . . How fleeting is artificial glory! A month ago, they were upright, glittering, decorated symbols of joy. But for the past few days, most Christmas trees lay at roadside, bare and flat awaiting garbage pick-up. . . . The Western New York Food Bank and local supermarkets beginning Tuesday and running into February will stage their Check-out Hunger fund drive where shoppers can add $1 to their food purchase costs. . . . In November, the state's egg producers managed 3.73 million hens and paying pullets. Under carefully controlled conditions and diets, they averaged 23 eggs that month, better than two eggs every three days. . . . A USDA researcher has patented a device that early on detects Johnes disease, a contagious dairy cow ailment that annually costs farmers $200 million in losses.

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