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Local control is a value worth preserving; Other news

(Friday, March 18, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Local Control is a Value Worth Preserving
2. U.S. farm trade under pressure
3. Farmers Urge Energy Bill Approval During Visits to Capitol Hill
4. National Farmers Union: Do We Hafta Have CAFTA?
5. Guatemalans protest trade pact
6. CAFTA Backers Gain Democratic Vote, But Lose GOP One
7. Globalization's Realities
8. Analysis: Brazil aggressive with trade
9. Loup County residents unfazed by 'poverty'
10. Rice exports from California are soaring amid a drought in Australia. But producers are seeing depressed prices because of a surplus of the grain.

1. Local Control is a Value Worth Preserving

By Russ Kremer, Missouri Farmers Union March 15, 2005

There are lots of reasons why I choose to be active in the effort to create a positive future for family farmers and rural communities. At the root of it all is a value system that has helped my family, neighbors and friends enjoy a good quality of life in rural Missouri. Rural people tend to believe in neighbors helping neighbors, hard work, strong families and community-based solutions to the challenges we face.

With this value system in place, many rural Missouri legislators often speak in favor of "local control" for every issue--of schools, of taxes, of natural resources. But there is one issue where the rural legislators are compromising their traditional local control position: the ability of counties to pass health ordinances to protect their citizens from the health risks created by ultra large livestock operations, classified as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Unlike family farmers who have traditionally raised livestock in small herds spread out across the state, CAFOs concentrate tens of thousands of animals and their manure in a small area. CAFOs have a history of manure management problems that lead to polluting rivers and streams, filling the air with harmful gases and driving down the property values of people who live near these facilities. Studies have pointed out that Missouri counties that host the highest number of CAFO's also have the highest deterioration rates for child well being. Due to these manure management problems, Missouri has worked out a system of CAFO rules that sets a floor of environmental regulations that CAFOs must obey under state law. These standards only apply to the biggest 438 livestock operations in the state. The rest of Missouri's 106,000 farmers, more than 99%, are not impacted by these regulations at all.

Nine Missouri counties have taken the step of tightening up CAFO rules at the county level in order to protect their citizens from the documented health risks of CAFOs, primarily nervous and respiratory system concerns. By passing county health ordinances these nine counties are pro-actively looking out for farmers and rural people who live near the manure of thousands of pigs, cows, chickens or turkeys. The right to pass county health ordinances is supported by the Missouri Association of Counties (that represents Missouri's County Commissioners), the Missouri Attorney General and has been upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court.

County health ordinance rights has been under attack for the past two years, but a group of family farmers and other people concerned about healthy rural communities have fought off these attacks. Last week, the special interest CAFO supporters finally got their way in the Missouri Senate when they voted 21 to 10 to take away counties' rights to have these health ordinances. Despite all of the talk about "supporting local control," it seems that many Senators are able to set their values aside when it comes to public health and environmental issues. The bill will be heard on the house floor this week.

We've got to ask ourselves how sacrificing our local public health rules can benefit rural Missouri? Are we interested in moving toward a state that de-regulates itself to welcome the hazardous waste and landfills that nobody else wants? Is it worth giving up our quality of life to allow polluters to expand their operations in the state?

If our legislators in Jefferson City are interested in this type of economic development plan, they should certainly allow counties the right to determine their own future and opt out of this kind of "pollution-friendly" approach. Local control protects the rights of communities to have a say in their own future. With state-level protections over our rural quality-of-life being dismantled in the state legislature, local control is not a value we can afford to set aside.

Missouri Farmers Union's mission is to protect and enhance the economic interests and way of life of family farmers and ranchers and the rural communities they represent. MFU is the true advocacy organization representing family farms and rural communities. For more information or to join, go to http://www.missourifarmersunion.org . Contact Russ Kremer at 573-659-4787 or russmfu@earthlink.net.

2. U.S. farm trade under pressure

Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), March 14, 2005, Monday
By Katherine Dillin

WASHINGTON--Wander down the aisles of most American grocery stores and you'll find a surprising choice of foods from foreign countries - ripe blackberries from Mexico, capers from Morocco, hearts of palm from Costa Rica, sweet peppers from South Africa. The list goes on.

While all these foreign imports may be a boon for consumers, they're one reason the once-huge US agricultural trade surplus is rapidly deflating. It's down from $ 9.6 billion just last year to only a projected $ 1 billion in 2005, raising the possibility of a deficit in the future.

How could the world's breadbasket be staggering when it comes to a traditional strength like the American farm? The question comes at an awkward moment as overall US trade deficits hit record highs of more than $ 600 billion a year.

The answer is a culinary tale involving changing consumer tastes, expanding global farm output, and the subsidies governments offer a politically sensitive industry.

"We're not doing enough to combat [foreign] protectionism," says Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. He says other countries are raising barriers that make it harder for American farmers to sell their products abroad.

At home, American shoppers also share the blame. People enjoy - and buy - lots of foreign foods. "Our economy is growing, incomes are rising," says Parr Rosson, director of the Center for North American Studies at Texas A&M University. "As a consequence our imports have risen ... particularly in fruits and vegetables we like to have fresh year-round."

Last year, $ 62.3 billion in farm exports left the US, a number forecast to drop to $ 59 billion in 2005. Conversely, $ 52.7 billion in imports arrived in 2004 and are predicted to be up to $ 58 billion this year.

Representative Goodlatte runs through a list of reasons.

First, there are tariffs. The "United States imposes tariffs on food coming to our country that average 12 percent. The worldwide average is 62 percent."

Second, developed countries, particularly Japan and the European Union, subsidize their farmers at far higher levels than America. "Even though our agricultural production is higher and our population is lower, we actually have a trade deficit with Europe in agriculture, in part because of all these tariffs and subsidies," he says.

While subsidies can distort commerce, many experts see trade in general as beneficial. "If we didn't import oil, what do you think we'd be paying for oil today?" asks Mr. Rosson at Texas A&M. "You need to think of imports [as] ... sending a signal to domestic industry they need to compete or become more productive."

One agricultural industry -cheese - has long run an export deficit, but the industry insists it hasn't hurt them. "We have a healthy relationship with [foreign cheese makers]... They are the 'origin' cheeses. They've given the American consumer their palette," says John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison.

Still, the rapid decline in the US dollar relative to other currencies should be boosting US exports and dampening imports. Why doesn't that happen? Rosson says, "Companies make deals well in advance ... and as long as that pipeline is full ... it takes [a year to 18 months] for that change to ripple through the system."

Gary Adams, chief economist with the National Cotton Council of America in Memphis, Tenn., offers another take: "As the dollar weakens or depreciates,... that does tend to support our ability to export... [B]ut one other wrinkle is if China is your destination for your product, then movement of your dollar isn't affecting things so much because China's [currency] is pegged to the US dollar."

The top three destinations for raw US cotton fiber are Mexico, China, and Turkey. The cotton industry has been shipping more and more of its raw fiber out of the country as US mills close.

America's "biggest complaint" is over non-tariff trade barriers, Goodlatte says.

The European Union "block[s] some of our major exports on what we think are unscientific and spurious reasons that really you'd have to think of as more protectionist than based on science." Prime examples are genetically modified corn and soybeans, he says.

The farmers' own representatives in Washington - the American Farm Bureau Federation - don't seem as concerned. "The things that we're importing tend not to compete with what [we're] growing in the US," says Megan Provost, trade economist with the federation.

Still, American government policies could add new worries for farms. In addition to its goal of reducing subsidies, especially for rice and cotton, the Bush administration would move $ 300 million from the US foreign food aid program to the US Agency for International Development. "This would allow USAID to buy food products overseas for foreign aid, rather than from US farmers," according to The Washington Times. Goodlatte says that would breach a "contract" with US farmers. America, with 6 percent of the world's population, some years provides 60 percent of the food aid, he adds.

3. Farmers Urge Energy Bill Approval During Visits to Capitol Hill

Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330

WASHINGTON ­ March 14, 2005 -- A top energy regulator today called on Congress to pass electric reliability legislation this year. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) member Joseph T. Kelliher told family farmers that in the wake of the 2003 electricity blackout and continuing strains on the electric grid, failure to pass a bill will mean Congress must accept much of the responsibility if widespread blackouts happen in the future.

So far, attempts to pass stand-alone reliability legislation have been unsuccessful and while electric utilities have been coordinating their efforts on a voluntary basis they have also called for mandatory standards to be put in place that will give the industry some certainty.

Kelliher was speaking at the seventh Rural Energy Issues Conference organized by the Alliance for Rural America (ARA). During their visit to Washington, family farmers from all ARA member groups debated the energy and environmental challenges facing our nation, including those facing rural America.

The conference was followed by a day of visits to Capitol Hill where farmers talked to their delegations about the need to pass the energy bill which includes an extension of the Production Tax Credit, creates a Renewable Fuel Standard and provides incentives to upgrade and expand the electric transmission grid. Farmers also want to see passage of a multi-emissions bill to improve the environment and bring certainty to electricity availability and affordability.

These grassroots advocates are all participants in the Alliance for Rural America’s (ARA’s) Rural Energy Issues Conference. The ARA was established in 1997 to give the rural citizens a voice in energy and environmental debates in Washington as well as in local and state governments. ARA National Spokesperson, Larry Mitchell, said "Farmers and ranchers are once again coming to Washington to impress upon lawmakers the need to put aside partisan, geographic and other differences to pass an energy bill that will ease fuel and natural gas prices and protect energy reliability for rural America.

Mitchell believes America’s farm and ranch families can help. "Renewable energy is growing quickly in rural America. Windpower is now seen as a prospective source of income for many farmers." However, Mitchell said ARA members will be reminding lawmakers that all types of energy need to be encouraged. "Without a bill we fear prices will just keep going up. When ARA members meet with their representatives today their message will be, ‘Rural America cannot wait any longer. We need an energy bill now,’" said Mitchell.

The Alliance for Rural America's nine member organizations represent over 750,000 farmers and farm families. The ARA was formed in 1997 to represent the farm community on energy and environmental issues.

4. National Farmers Union: Do We Hafta Have CAFTA?

For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Johnston, 202-314-3104, ljohnston@nfudc.org

WASHINGTON (March 15, 2005) During a Capitol Hill news conference today, National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson voiced his strong opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which the farm leader believes would negatively impact U.S. farmers.

"CAFTA resembles failed trade policies of the past that further encourage a 'race to the bottom' for producer prices," Frederickson said. "This agreement also fails to address major issues that distort fair trade such as labor, environmental regulations and currency."

Frederickson said the impact of CAFTA will be seen in more imports of sugar, fruit, vegetables, ethanol and other commodities, while estimates of sizable trade gains are "overly optimistic."

"CAFTA proponents overestimate the agreement's potential benefits, often ignoring the fact that nations included in CAFTA represent small populations with low purchasing power," Frederickson said. "The CAFTA, and the U.S. trade agenda as a whole, seems more inclined to negotiate with countries that want increased access to U.S. markets rather than with countries interested in buying more U.S. agricultural products, such as Cuba.

"National Farmers Union supports trade that benefits agricultural producers in all countries and cannot support agreements like the CAFTA that trade away our agricultural markets for no visible returns to American farmers and ranchers," the Farmers Union leader said.

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., and others joined Frederickson in stating opposition to CAFTA today. During the news conference, the leaders were flanked by farmers from across the country in town this week to oppose CAFTA and advocate other rural issues.

National Farmers Union is a general farm organization representing a quarter of a million family farmers and ranchers nationwide. NFU serves its membership by providing educational opportunities, supporting farmer-owned cooperative development, and presenting the organization's policies to lawmakers at the local, state and national levels.


5. Guatemalans protest trade pact

Al Jazeera online, Monday 14 March 2005

Many are against the Central American Free Trade Agreement

Thousands of Guatemalans have rallied across the country in a protest against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States.

About 6000 people took part on Monday in different marches that converged on the historical central part of Guatemala City where the National Congress is located. Congress approved the treaty on Thursday.

The protests were part of a national one-day strike against the treaty.

Activists shouted slogans against the United States and against ruling party legislators. Other activists gathered outside the US Embassy, and yet another group marched on a highway to the Atlantic.

There were similar protests across Guatemala with farmers blocking highways leading to the borders with Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.

Presidential warning

Guatemalan President Oscar Berger played down the protests and warned that if blockades were set up, leaders would be arrested.

He said CAFTA would be beneficial for Guatemala and especially would bring in foreign investment.

"When our producers get big dollars, we'll see if they stage a demonstration," he said.

Interior Minister Carlos Vielman warned that if blockades were not withdrawn voluntarily, they would be forcibly dispersed.

The Guatemalan Congress approved the seven-nation CAFTA by a 126-12 vote, making Guatemala the third Central American country to ratify the treaty after Honduras and El Salvador.

Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the United States have yet to ratify it.

Source: Al Jazeera online

6.CAFTA Backers Gain Democratic Vote, But Lose GOP One

From Congress Daily

Freshman Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas today announced hissupport for the Central America Free Trade Agreement while Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., said he would oppose it as the battle for votes to ratify the deal continued.

Cuellar made his decision public during a speech to business supportersof the deal. "He sees this as a big opportunity for economic developmentand people in his district to get job opportunities, a Cuellar spokeswoman said, noting that the includes border city ofLaredo, which would benefit economically from an increase trade. Pro-CAFTA lobbyists are courting Democratic votes they will needsecure CAFTA passage House year. One Democrat likely beleader effort build support party is Rep. James Moran Virginia, several although'sspokesman could not reached comment.

A House Democratic aide said there are now as many as 20 Democrats strongly leaning in favor of the deal, but that would likely not be enough to offset Republican defections and pass the deal.

Rehberg became one of those GOP defections. "CAFTA is bad for Montana, unfair to Montana's sugar industry, and will ultimately hurt the economy of eastern Montana," he said, adding that he had "spoken to countless farmers, business owners and community leaders across Montana since this accord was announced, and I can't remember any who support it." One of the deal's strongest opponents -- the Billings-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America -- is based in Rehberg's home state. It announced in January it opposes the deal, saying it would lead to more beef imports from those countries than it would exports of U.S. beef.

House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., today joined the National Farmers Union at an anti-CAFTA rally where he predicted at least 190 Democrats would vote against it.

Peterson also said he believes CAFTA would lose in the House by 40 to 50 votes. Peterson said although Republican proponents of CAFTA have said they hope to bring it up in April or May, it may never come to a vote if GOP leaders are not sure of victory.

Peterson said bilateral trade agreements "have been a disaster for agriculture" because they have divided the agriculture community and made it impossible to address problems in the agreements. Calman Cohen, who leads the Business Coalition for U.S.-Central America Trade, said he believed the House Ways and Means Committee would hold a hearing on the pact in April in preparation for a vote by mid-year. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing April 6 on CAFTA, which includes five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic. -- by Martin Vaughan and Jerry Hagstrom

7. Globalization's Realities

The Washington Post

March 12, 2005 Saturday
Editorial; A17

Sebastian Mallaby ["Making Globalization Work," op-ed, Feb. 28] finally understands that the global race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards is creating losers that endanger our world's future prosperity and security. Unfortunately, his column deteriorated into a disconnected rant attacking me and claiming that opposition to corporate-led globalization has withered.

Global justice activism, far from fading, has gone mainstream. Living with a decade of globalization in the style of the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement has generated many critics.

Opposition to more-of-the-same globalization started in the developing world because decades of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank imposing these policies meant that more live in extreme poverty. The very countries Mallaby says would benefit oppose a proposed expansion of NAFTA to 31 nations because they know Mexico's NAFTA record -- 1.5 million campesino livelihoods lost and lower wages.

Now, with a record U.S. trade deficit, median real wages at 1972 levels, farm income crashed, trade tribunals ruling against U.S. laws and the anguish of a growing job export crisis, many in Congress are also reconsidering. In red and blue states alike, they see the pain of farmers and workers and hear from local officials whose tax bases were gutted by the loss of one in six manufacturing jobs during the NAFTA-WTO era.

At issue is not whether to trade but what rules will govern the global economy. The current rules limit governments' ability to deal with many social, environmental and security challenges created by unfettered globalization.

The debate has moved beyond Mallaby's notion that the status quo is successful or inevitable. With the engagement of leading economists and policymakers worldwide, and, yes, me and Bono too, the debate has shifted onto what changes are needed. My organization works internationally as part of a thriving movement promoting alternatives to corporate globalization because the status quo is unsustainable and a better world is possible.

--Lori Wallach,

The writer is director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Sebastian Mallaby suggests that trade liberalization has achieved a "lasting victory" over so-called globophobes. It's hard to know what victory Mallaby is referring to. Is it the World Trade Organization talks, which fell apart at the last ministerial meeting because of the well-understood damaging impacts of globalization on poor countries? Is it the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks, intractably stalemated over the same issues? Maybe he's referring to the Central American Free Trade Agreement talks, even though the Bush administration, despite Republican control of Congress, has yet to put CAFTA forward for ratification because of the likely political backlash.

A recent international survey found that nongovernmental organizations are more trusted around the world than business and the media. It's no wonder after hearing such disconnected rants from free-traders such as Mallaby.

He would do well to listen more closely to the conflicts within the WTO and over trade agreements pushing this extreme brand of trade liberalization. The issues being raised by developing countries and U.S. farmers, workers and small businesses are those that have been raised for the past decade: the trade rules promoting this brand of globalization are rigged to favor multinational corporations at the expense of working people.

Mallaby's support for international institutions is laudable -- but these institutions' effectiveness is predicated on an honest discussion about the failures of our current "globalization."

-- Ben Lilliston

The writer is communications coordinator for the nonprofit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

8. Analysis: Brazil aggressive with trade


[World News]: By LES KJOS MIAMI, March 7 : The state of Florida won a preliminary victory over Brazil in the international-trade arena last week, but that's not likely to keep Brazil from continuing to stir up controversy in the global economy.

The South American country's economy grew by 5.2 percent last year, but it is still using its agricultural might to work its way out of a huge national debt -- and making some legal challenges in the process.

Brazil also had talks last week in Washington in an effort to revive prospects for the 34-nation Free Trade Association of the Americas.

At the same time Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the demise of the idea, and Cuba complicated matters by showing interest in becoming an associate partner of Mercosur, a trade group comprised of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

With all that going on, Brazil has been increasingly willing to try to work its will on the international agricultural market - with mixed results.

Brazil lost a preliminary ruling to Florida citrus growers, who say they are being harmed by the import of Brazilian orange juice at less-than-fair market prices.

The International Trade Commission has voted to continue to investigate the Florida complaints against Brazilian producers of citrus concentrate.

Andy LaVigne, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the ruling was encouraging.

"We have a very strong case, which warrants a thorough investigation by both" the commission and the Commerce Department, LaVigne told The Miami Herald.

The decision must be ratified by the Commerce Department and seconded by the trade commission for the campaign by Florida growers to be successful.

Brazilian producers have denied they are selling the concentrates for prices below the cost of production.

The states of Florida and Sao Paulo are the two largest producers of citrus concentrate in the world.

Florida's complaint filed Dec. 27 charged "the industry is being injured by steady importations of low-priced orange juice in the market over the past two years."

The complaint said hurricanes that hit Florida and other circumstances did not increase the bulk price of orange juice as they should have.

Analysts note that happened despite one of the highest tariff rates of any import into the United States.

Matthew T.McGrath, an attorney for the Florida growers, said the decision would "make the Brazilians aware that their pricing was being monitored by the Commerce Department.We are looking for a better return for the growers."

Despite the disagreement over citrus, Florida is cozying up to its Latin American trading partner by holding a business conference Thursday and Friday at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

Trade between Brazil and Florida increased to around $10.5 billion in 2004. Trade between the two entities slumped in 2002 and 2003 after a record $10.51 billion in 2001.

Gov.Geraldo Alckmin of the state of Sao Paulo and Brazil's Ambassador to the United States Roberto Abdenur are to speak along with Florida officials.Florida Gov.Jeb Bush is among those invited.

Although the citrus decision was a disappointment, Brazil won another fight Thursday -- a potentially more significant one -- when the World Trade Organization ruled $2.7 billion in aid to U.S. cotton farmers is illegal.

The WTO rejected a U.S. appeal to overturn a ruling in 2004 by an independent panel of trade experts.

Brazil had complained that the United States was subsidizing its cotton production in a bid to maintain its leadership position.

Supporting the complaint were Argentina, Australia, Benin, Canada, Chad, China, the European Union, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Taiwan and Venezuela.

The panel ruled the subsidies were depressing international prices and harming cotton farmers in Brazil and elsewhere.

Brazil contended that the United States had paid $12.5 billion in subsidies to U.S. farmers between August 2001 and July 2003.

Representatives of the United States argued that the payments were well within limits put in place by the WTO.

The response by the United States has not been determined. In the past, most nations decide to following the trade-organization rulings because to defy them would risk retaliatory tariffs and could result in a loss of markets. Total subsidies to farmers last year were $16 billion, and cuts appear to be looming.

President Bush's budget would cut farm subsidies by $587 million next year with an eye toward reductions of $5 billion over the next decade.

Brazil apparently feels as though it can use its economic power to create even more power, especially when it involves the United States.

In most of the first half of the last century, 50 percent of Brazil's foreign trade was with the United States. Now it is down to 20 percent, with the European Union getting more than one-fourth and South America getting another 20 percent.

Exports for the 12 months ending Jan. 31 narrowly broke the $100 billion mark for the first time.With imports reaching $65.05 billion over the same period, Brazil's trade surplus stood at about $35 billion.So far this year, Brazil has accumulated a trade surplus of nearly $5 billion.

Brazilian agriculture won another victory Thursday when the country's lower house of legislature passed a bill to legalize the use of genetically modified soy seeds.The U.S.-based biotechnology firm Monsanto will be allowed to sell the seeds in Brazil.The seeds were banned in Brazil but many farmers were believed to be using seeds that had been cloned or smuggled into the country.

9. Loup County residents unfazed by 'poverty'

ART HOVEY Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star

TAYLOR - Some people think all those new houses spilling across the gentle slopes of southeast Lincoln prove they're settled in the right place.

Others like the Loup County look.

Jutting windmills and the Loup River winding through the cottonwoods. Barbed wire, crooked fence posts and Herefords tearing at clumps of Sandhills grass.

Two hundred miles northwest of the capital city, you're never very far from a hill where you can stuff your hands in your pockets, fix your gaze on the distant horizon and ponder the bigger questions. Such as:

How far is it to a hamburger? Do they shoot trespassers in such a remote place? And what's the matter with Loup County?

If anything.

Those who keep up with their Great Plains reading will recognize the last question as the one Thomas Frank tried to answer last year with the publication of "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

In a book subtitled "How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," the self-proclaimed liberal returns to his roots and concludes, to his great regret, that right-wing Republicans have a firm grip on the minds and hearts of voters.

So firm, in fact, that the faithful will choose family values over their own economic self-interest in agriculture and other sectors of the economy at the time of a presidential election. And firm for reasons that include the frequent failure of Democrats to offer any better answers on pocketbook issues.

Sought out by the Journal Star and asked to train his troubled vision on a Nebraska agricultural setting, Frank said this: "The problem facing people is concentration, vertical integration, consolidation of the food industry. And every farmer I've ever talked to knows what I'm talking about - and, by and large, agrees with me."

In looking toward Loup County, Frank is focusing on the poorest county in the United States in 2003 rankings of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Loup dropped to second place in that dubious category last year, even as George W. Bush pulled in 82 percent of votes cast in the county last year.

Since 1997, Loup County has been first, second or third every year on a poverty scale maintained for more than 3,000 counties in the United States, said Jon Bailey of Nebraska's Center for Rural Affairs.

Sue McNeil, who lives on a cattle ranch and near Loup County's one incorporated town of Taylor, has helped local Republicans keep a lock on their dominance in county politics. As county Republican chairwoman, she has also learned to look past an annual kick in the shins from the Commerce Department crowd.

"Even foreign reporters have come here," she said. "And they say, 'You guys aren't poor. You don't have homeless.'"

The figures may be right, she said, as far as they go. "But maybe we don't require as much to live here."

John McFadden sits down to the fried-chicken lunch special in his stocking feet at the Cattlemen's Company restaurant in Taylor, population 200.

His manure-caked boots, left in ripe condition by the rigors of calving season, stay outside as a courtesy to the mostly rural diners who have occupied every available table by high noon.

As he finishes his feast, McFadden accepts a copy of "What's the Matter with Kansas?" and turns it over in his rough rancher's hands as he listens to a quick summary of the contents.

What does he think?

Well, he said he thinks he and hired man Dan Hartman have about 75 pregnant cows to sort into the categories of very expectant and not-so-expectant.

As they and cattle dog Cinch tend to those and other afternoon chores, the 62-year-old McFadden said there might be something to at least some of what author Frank says.

He grins as he remembers what his father, Russell, also a rancher and a Republican "hard-liner," once said about the lengths of Loup County's political loyalties: '"If Adolf Hitler ran on the Republican ticket, we'd probably all vote for him.'"

"I think we're all staunch Republicans in this area," he adds, "and it shows."

The younger McFadden's enthusiasm for the elephant party has endured recent word of downward adjustments in the Bush budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That's the case even though the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation says the cuts could inflict "a huge blow" on Nebraska corn farmers.

"It sounds like the big cuts will be with the big producers that get the big payments," said McFadden, a prominent Farm Bureau member in his area. "I think that, if they want to cut some money, that would be a good place to do it."

As an organization, the Farm Bureau is more fond of a Republican-led effort that would permanently repeal the federal estate tax.

Frank, who was in Norfolk recently to speak at the annual meeting of the Center for Rural Affairs, doesn't think party loyalty has gone quite as blind as McFadden's Adolf Hitler story implies.

But he does think there are worrisome reasons Sandhills residents would vote for a president who does not share their preference for mandatory country-of-origin labeling of meat or a nationwide ban on meatpacker ownership of cattle in feedlots.

It was Senate Democrats, after all, who led the charge toward a packer ban in 2001. Although the House never acted, 39 of 51 Senate votes for the measure came from the Democratic side of the aisle, while 37 Republicans voted no.

How does that sort of issue fall out of voter thinking in cattle country?

"There is a widespread feeling that there's nothing the average person can do about the broad economic makeup of the world we live in," Frank said.

Too often, he said, wrangling in Congress leads voters to believe "the economy is something they have no say in."

Bill Clinton, two-term Democratic president in the 1990s, is part of the problem, Frank said. In looking for political middle ground, "he took a lot economic issues off the table."

"Democrats used to appeal to working-class people, farmers, average Americans."

John Kerry did nothing, in Frank's view, to rekindle old relationships.

"Making decisions depends on the choices they have out there. And if Democrats are not offering a clear choice, a solid distinction, then it is not really going to matter.

"And that's a huge part of the problem, especially in the last election, when the Kerry people didn't try to appeal to people in places like Nebraska."

Suitably attired in cowboy hat and chaps, John Schroeder is about to climb into the saddle and herd his cows into a new winter grazing area when he's drawn into a discussion about conservatives being able to count on his county, no matter which way the economy is headed.

Yes, he voted for George W. Bush. And his father. And Ronald Reagan?

Replies Schroeder: "He was a Republican, wasn't he?"

That's not to say he agrees with everything a Republican president says. On the subject of country-of-origin labeling, for example, he said he believes people should know where their beef comes from.

"You know where your cars come from. Why not your meat?"

But Schroeder is quick to dispel the notion he has to hold his nose and cover his eyes every November 4th. He appreciates what he sees as a more cooperative attitude from the younger Bush in the areas where livestock and environmental interests usually collide.

Friendlier federal attitudes toward livestock waste policies and grazing rights matter in cattle country.

"Most of his environmental stuff I agree with. And I'm still not sure he's all wrong on the war."

Schroeder scoffs at the poverty rankings that keep putting Loup County in the category of extreme need. He said he wonders how reliable employment rates, for example, can be an economic indicator in such a lightly populated place.

"Somebody's hired man left and they didn't rehire him," he said.

Sue McNeil is married to Loup County's only local Democrat official, according to records on file at Democratic headquarters in Lincoln.

But even County Commissioner Tom McNeil, one of 68 Loup County Kerry voters swept aside by a Bush landslide of 314 in November, said he likes his family values in large portions.

"Without a doubt, I think family values have declined somewhat from what they used to be," Tom McNeil said. "We're now living in a world where there's more alcohol, drugs, teen pregnancies, all that sort of thing."

Loup County has not succumbed to those sobering trends, to judge by the lengthy statistical outpouring available through Nebraska's Health and Human Services System.

In 2000, only 7 percent of Loup County households were single-parent families, compared to 12.4 percent for the rest of the state.

Not a single student in grades 7 through 12 dropped out of school in 2000-2001.

There were no reports of sexually transmitted diseases in 2001.

The 1999 arrest rate for violent crime, DUI and other drug charges was 2.8 per 100,000, compared to 59.2 for the rest of the state.

On the other hand, Loup County has no medical doctors, no psychiatrists and no hospitals to serve the 712 people scattered across its 576 square miles at the time of the 2000 census.

Many rural youngsters ride the bus for an hour or more to get to school in Taylor.

Loup County's population peaked at 2,188 in 1910 and dropped steadily until the census showed a gain of 29 people in the 1990s.

Since 1910, the number of cows has jumped from about 11,000 to almost 40,000, but the Nebraska Agricultural Statistics Service reports the number of farms and ranches is less than half the total at the end of World War II.

Peg Schneider, owner-manager of Taylor Made Hair Designs and a Republican, said she fits the mold of Middle America. "I think that Middle America relates better to the Republican Party right now."

"We are independent people and we don't want the government to do everything for us. We want to try to take care of ourselves."

She's proud to have a daughter in charge of pharmacy operations at the Wayne hospital and a son in medical school in Omaha.

What about this poverty stuff?

"Monetarily, if that's where they say we were, that's a possibility," she said. "But I think we don't have anybody going hungry and we have a really good quality of life."

Reach Art Hovey at (402) 523-4949

10. Rice exports from California are soaring amid a drought in Australia. But producers are seeing depressed prices because of a surplus of the grain.

By Jerry Hirsch, LA Times, 03/15/05

The weak dollar and a serious drought in Australia are helping bring California's rice industry to a boil.

The state's growers are shipping thousands of metric tons of Calrose rice to Israel, Jordan and New Guinea, countries that bought almost none of the grain last year. Canada has about doubled its purchases of the California grain and old-line customers such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are buying more.

All told, exports and overseas orders for medium- and short-grain rice have risen 38% this year compared with 2004, to 785,000 metric tons, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week. And virtually all of the medium- and short-grain rice sold for export from the U.S. — the sticky kind of rice typically used in sushi — are grown in California.

"In the last couple of months we have seen a big jump," said Andy Aaronson, a rice analyst at the USDA. "We are picking up business in areas where Australia is the usual supplier."

Hampered by a persistent drought, Australian production has fallen to about a third of what's typical. Adding to the luster of California rice are favorable exchange rates, which make it more competitive globally.

The state trails Arkansas as the nation's second-largest rice producer, growing $468 million worth in 2003, the last full year for which statistics are available, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Still, though they might be selling more overseas, California farmers aren't getting much money. Prices are depressed this year — many farmers say rice sells for less than it costs to produce — because a surplus of the stuff was grown in 2004.

That was a big turnaround from the previous season, when a small crop led to high prices. Farmers reacted predictably by planting wall-to-wall rice in Colusa and Glenn counties and other Northern California rice paddies. They sowed 600,000 acres of the grain in 2004, a 20% increase.

At the same time, favorable weather led to record yields and pushed the state's output to 51 million hundred weights, a 31% gain. (Domestic rice production is measured in hundred weights, based on the now-defunct practice of storing the grain in 100-pound burlap sacks at harvest time.)

"It's a huge amount," said Charlie Mathews, who farms 4,000 acres in Marysville, Calif. "The most we have ever exported and sold domestically before is maybe 43 million."

Prices plunged to an estimated 7 to 8 cents a pound in the current 2004-2005 season from the approximately 12 cents paid out last year, farmers say. Prices are set through a combination of government supports and what the Farmers' Rice Cooperative and a group of private pools can get in the open market. The final returns for this year won't be in until after the July 31 end of the marketing season.

Most of California's crop is sold through two types of organizations. The Sacramento-based rice cooperative, which accounts for about a quarter of the state's production, collects rice from its 900 members, then mills and packages the crop and finds customers such as breweries, food processors, retailers and overseas clients. It deducts the cost of its operations from the rice revenue and allocates what's left to its grower-owners.

Private pools, which include global concerns such as ADM Rice Inc. and Connell Rice & Sugar Co., offer the same type of marketing services. They typically offer farmers some sort of minium guarantee, but the growers are essentially dependent on the pools to act as traders on their behalf and can't control what price they get.

Some farmers are questioning why prices have fallen so far in the face of rising demand.

Greg Massa of Hamilton City, Calif., is trying to sell about 3 million pounds of rice he harvested last year. Massa, who farms about 700 acres in Colusa and Glenn counties, thinks he can get more for his crop by hawking it on Farmandtrade.com, an Internet exchange, than he would from the cooperative or the marketing pools, which he claims have little incentive to push for higher prices.

Strong export activity, Massa said, should turn the market around and make his holdings more valuable.

Moreover, Massa believes the USDA export figures are far too low. If trends hold, California could export 1.5 million metric tons, or 33 million hundred weights, a figure large enough to eat up much of the surplus crop, he estimates.

"Australia has basically no rice left. China … will be a net importer. California will have a smaller crop due to the low prices and water sales to Los Angeles," Massa said. "Why would I sell now at a loss when I can make some money later?"

His strategy is a gamble. If the market doesn't firm up, Massa will to have to sell out at prevailing prices or risk having so much grain left over that he finds himself competing with the upcoming crop, including the rice he'll plant in the coming months. California rice is planted in April and May and harvested in September and October.

Massa, a member of a trade group called Rice Producers of California, said the marketing cooperative and private pools low-ball California rice just to move it. The group is calling on farmers to band together and demand higher prices.

Others are skeptical of Massa's claim.

"What's the incentive for the people who are buying California rice to leave money on the table when they sell it?" asked Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Davis Agriculture Issues Center. "All farmers think you can do a better job of marketing their crop.

"But if the guys who are marketing rice were really screwing up and selling it for less than the market dictated, others would have jumped into the business."

John Valpey, vice president for Connell Rice & Sugar in Colusa, said marketers "understand that growers would like a higher economic return." But he added that traders "cannot control the quantity of rice" that farmers produce.