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IN THE AREA'S FARM FIELDS, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY

It was the second driest year in the past 28 in Western New York, and the lack of moisture once again caused problems for some -- but not all -- area crop farmers in 1999.

The highly scattered nature of the rainfall during the last growing season left some crop growers high and dry while neighbors just down the road were getting soaked.

"Some of the farmers have said, 'I've had the best crop year I ever had,' because they had the heat and they were lucky enough to get the rain," said Bruce Tillapaugh with the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Warsaw.

"I've had others, often somebody who doesn't live that far away from the other guy, say, 'I've had the worst crops I ever had.' "

Statewide, production was down for many crops, according to state Department of Agriculture and Markets spokesman Pete Gregg.

Production of corn for grain was down 6 percent from last year, to a projected 62 million bushels. Hay production was also down almost 26 percent from last year, to about 2.3 million tons. Alfalfa was down 25 percent, to about 1.1 million tons.

"Overall, it was a horrible year for hay, and it was all due to the drought," Gregg said, adding that the prices farmers get for their hay crops were also down.

The poor hay production was another blow for the state's embattled dairy farmers, many of whom will now have to buy hay to feed their cows this winter.

Milk prices went down slightly through most of the year, then fell sharply in December and into the new year, Gregg said.

Western New York dairy farmers got a blend price of about $1.21 per gallon as of the end of November, which was down from about $1.24 at the start of the year.

"It wasn't a bad year overall, but the bad news is that toward end of the year, they (milk prices) really crashed," Gregg said, noting that prices now are as low as they have been in 20 years. "And the rest of 2000 looks pretty poor."

Apple and grape growers had good years.

"It was an excellent year for apples, probably the best in the 1990s," Gregg said. "Ironically, it was due to the drought. The dry weather kept away the pests and diseases."

Apple production for 1999 was projected at 1.23 billion pounds, a 15 percent increase over the previous year. Grape production saw an even greater increase of almost 50 percent, to 189,000 tons.

"From the wine standpoint, it was an excellent vintage, probably the best in years," Gregg said. "The sugar content in the grapes was very high."

Otherwise, Gregg said, farmers who found niche markets or who added value to their products also had good years.

"The farmers doing direct marketing are doing well," he said. "Organic farmers are doing extraordinarily well, though they have a lot of failures."

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