Originally created 01/20/99

USDA setting up gene research center at Cornell



ITHACA, N.Y. -- In an effort to provide a valuable resource of genetic data on key crops, the Agriculture Department will set up a national gene research center at Cornell University.

The new facility, the Center for Bioinformatics and Comparative Genomics, is expected to open this spring, said Judy St. John, an associate deputy administrator with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

"The USDA-funded center will aid researchers around the country and the world in the quest to discover all the genes in grains -- like corn, wheat and rice -- and plants in the family that includes tomatoes, potatoes and peppers," St. John said in a statement released Monday.

Genomics refers to the study of the gene map, and bioinformatics is the use of computers to help researchers answer life-science questions. Once a gene's structure is mapped, scientists can use computers to look for similar structures in genome databases of plants, humans, mice and other life forms.

Once a gene's function is identified, scientists can begin experiments to see if that gene can be rebuilt in a way to make it more effective. For example, disease-resistant genes can be moved into plants that lack resistance, and those plants should require fewer chemical pesticides.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- After three months of record high milk prices for the producer, the retail price of cheese, butter and milk should begin a slow decline.

Strong consumer demand powered a run-up in the milk prices for producers during October, November and December. That was reflected in consumer costs at the dairy counter.

After record highs, it was inevitable that prices would come back down, said Chris Nubern, director of economic research for the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va.

Nubern said the U.S. milk supply increased last year, but not as much as expected. At the same time, there was exceptional demand for cheese, ice cream and butter.

"All those products really turned the market around for us," Nubern said. "This was just an unbelievable year in terms of price strength for dairy."

Overall, regional prices for milk on the farm averaged more than $17 per hundred pounds in December and set a yearly average high of $14.20 in 1998. Even though the prices paid to producers have topped out and are headed down, milk still ranks as one of the few profitable commodities on the farm these days.

Dairy farmer Jim Gilkerson of Brookings, S.D., said milk producers needed the period of prosperity after tough prices in previous years.

"It was a struggle there for several years. I hope the dairy industry has had its hard years, and now it will stay up there for a while," Gilkerson said. "We've probably had four or five months of prosperity now. And for the next two months, it should still be pretty good."

Another factor that has helped dairy farmers has reflected the pain elsewhere in agriculture. Feed costs for alfalfa and especially corn have fallen sharply from exceptionally high levels in 1996.

"I guess that's one of those bright spots, the reduced feed costs," said dairy farmer Ralph Schelske of Reliance. But he added that he wasn't particularly happy about getting ahead that way "when somebody else is going broke."