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Farmers Lobbying for Government Aid

March 23, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ They don’t agree on what should be done, but scores of farmers are flying into the nation’s capital this month to appeal for government help to survive another year of low commodity prices.

Wheat ``at my local elevator is $3 a bushel and that’s not enough to make it,″ said Mark Sitz of Drake, N.D.

He is among 150 members of the National Farmers Union who fanned out across Capitol Hill on Monday to lobby lawmakers for billions of dollars worth of proposals, including increased price supports, payments for on-farm grain storage, purchases of low-price corn for ethanol production, and a short-term land-idling program to reduce production.

``Fundamental changes must be made in farm policy,″ Farmers Union President Leland Swenson said.

The larger American Farm Bureau Federation is sending 3,000 of its members to Washington over the course of this month.

While they oppose production controls supported by the Farmers Union, the Farm Bureau members say in a letter to members of Congress that the 1996 farm law needs a ``thorough reexamination″ to ``assure adequate economic and disaster assistance for all commodities.″

The 1996 law gave farmers more flexibility on what they could plant but it sharply cut crop subsidies that were intended to provide a safety net with prices dropped significantly.

The Farm Bureau wants the Agriculture Department to expand its use of export subsidies and the Conservation Reserve Program and is asking Congress for tax cuts and a moratorium on new regulations that affect agriculture.

``Lack of significant progress in these areas combined with significant economic troubles in the world are throwing farmers a devastating punch,″ the letter says.

Congress provided $5.9 billion in assistance last fall, a month before the election. This isn’t an election year, but Swenson said farmers are ahead of where they were at this time last year in convincing lawmakers that they need extra government assistance.

``Do we have a steep hill to climb, absolutely,″ Swenson said. But last March ``we were told we had zero chance.″

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Agriculture Department researchers say a biodegradable film made from an oilseed byproduct called soapstock may offer a new material for encapsulating chemicals, packaging fresh produce and other uses.

Soapstock results from using hexane and other industrial substances to extract and refine edible oil from the seed of cotton, safflower and sunflower crops, the department’s Agricultural Research Service says. It noted that cottonseed processors alone generate 60 million to 120 million pounds of soapstock annually. Most goes into animal feedstuffs containing seedmeal.

But oilseed processors are seeking new, more profitable uses, said Sam Kuk and Amy Ballew of the ARS office in New Orleans.

About a year ago, Kuk and Ballew began experimenting with ways to exploit soapstocks cache of plant esters, glycerides, and phospholipids _ substances that make it biodegradable, malleable and soluble in both water and oil.

One possible commercial use would be in developing a packaging material to wrap fresh produce like bell peppers or cucumbers that perish easily. Another possibility is encapsulating fungicides and other chemicals in slow-release formulations.

Studies show that when placed in water, the soapstock capsules degrade at a rate that delays the release of fungicide by about three hours. This may also apply for pharmaceutical compounds.

Scientists also are testing a soapstock gel for hair styling and coloring.