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FARM SCENE: Idaho Potato Production, Yield Set Records

November 21, 1996

BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ Potato growers in Idaho set yield and production records this year, harvesting 34,300 pounds per acre.

The Idaho crop is estimated at just under 14 billion pounds _ almost one-third of the total nationwide harvest of 44.8 billion pounds.

But not all the news is good for potato farmers. The Idaho Agricultural Statistics Service said average prices paid for potatoes for all uses averaged $4.30 per 100 pounds last month, down 95 cents from a year earlier.

In 10 counties of southwestern Idaho, where the growing season is longer, potato farmers harvested an average 42,500 pounds per acre, up 500 pounds from 1995.

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Farmers across New York are voting this month on a program that would take a small percentage of their annual crop sales to fund product research and marketing.

About 1,700 New York farmers who grow corn, wheat, soybeans, barley or oats are eligible to vote. Farmers receive separate ballots for each crop they grow.

If all five referenda pass, about $547,000 will be raised each year, based on 1994 figures for each crop. Farmers would pay 0.5 percent of their net sales to the program, called marketing orders.

The money would buy research to develop better production methods for crops and new uses for grains and to create new markets, said Ron Robbins, president of the 350-member New York Corn Growers Association, which pressed the state to hold the votes.

Similar programs exist in about 20 other states.

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GLOUCESTER, Va. (AP) _ Scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are trying to determine if flounder farming can be profitable.

The institute is one of a handful of laboratories along the East Coast experimenting with raising flounder to supplement the dwindling supplies of fish caught at sea.

Such aquaculture has been limited largely to freshwater fish, such as catfish and tilapia, and shellfish, such as clams and oysters.

It’s a field of research that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, because the oceans provided all the flounder needed, said Mike Oesterling, a commercial fisheries specialist at the institute.

The ocean still holds plenty of flounder. Some 3 million pounds of summer flounder were landed in Virginia in 1995, ranking it fourth among the state’s seafood catch in terms of dockside value.

But declining flounder stocks and the fishing restrictions aimed at bringing them back have made the idea of flounder farming more attractive, Oesterling said. The federal government is now making money available for flounder aquaculture experiments.

The Virginia experiment began with the arrival last spring of 1,000 flounder fingerlings from the nation’s only commercial flounder hatchery, in New Hampshire. They were each about three inches long and weighed about two-tenths of an ounce, said the institute’s William DuPaul.

Today, about 650 of the fish survive, averaging close to 7 inches long but still weighing less than an ounce. Poor water quality, parasites, bacterial diseases and fish fights account for most of the deaths, Oesterling said.

The survivors should be ready for the fish market in another year, when they’ll weigh about a pound, DuPaul said. They are expected to bring up to $5 apiece, and calculating the cost will determine whether flounder farming is feasible.

``We don’t want to raise a $10 fish and get $5 for it,″ DuPaul said.

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