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Not Buying It
By Mark Steil
August 5, 1999
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Farmers have finally received some good news as the U.S. Senate agreed on a $7 billion farm-relief package. The package still has a long way to go before any money reaches farmers, but it promises some cash this fall. As this year's Farmfest wraps up near Redwood Falls, many of those walking the long rows of machinery doubted the federal aid will be of much help.

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Mark Steil covers southwest Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio. To provide feedback on this story, please email
IN THE CORNER of the Farmfest grounds, past the shiny new red tractors and the latest satellite-guided combines, is a row of old equipment. The old tractors seem out of place amid the modern giants, a reminder of a kind of farming left far behind. But while no one would use the oldtimers to plant corn today, these ancient tractors helped nurture long rows of green corn which sometimes were worth more than the crops today modern giants plant and harvest.
Skjefte: I talked to a neighbor of mine, he says in 1948 he sold corn for $2.40. Now it's today, $1.60. Does it make sense? Your cars don't make sense, they were $900 back in the '40s, now they're $20,000. Where's our payment?
Galen Skjefte farms near Granite Falls in southwest Minnesota. He says assuming federal farm relief receives final approval, the aid will help. But he says even a federal emergency payment of several thousand dollars is not enough to change what is a downward economic track for most farmers.
Skjefte: If they did give out anything, it's not enough, it's enough just to make a guy get by for awhile. It's not a long-term saviour or nothing so, actually, you can't count of anything like that. Basically, you count on yourself to make it, you know?
He says what's really needed is something to boost the price of corn and soybeans. Northern Iowa farmer Russell Peters agrees, but says Congress doesn't want to take the time to build long-term solutions to Peters' main dilemma: low prices. He says they'd rather throw money at the problem and move on to something else.
Peters; A payment like this definitely helps, but like I said, 20 cents a bushel on the price of grain would make more difference than them writing a check. It's kind of like putting a Band Aid on a severed arm or something, you know? I don't think they really make a real wise use of their money the way they invest it this way.
Peters works off the farm to make ends meet, a common strategy during this farm downturn. He says there is simply too much grain on hand, driving down demand and prices. A drought in the eastern U.S. will cut production this summer and that will help reduce the nation's oversupply. In response to that, grain prices are moving up, though still far below the cost of production.

Sunburg, Minnesota farmer Randy Olson says Congress needs to do much more and farmers should let them know that.
Olson: We know what needs to be done, we know what needs to be prevented. Why do our legislators and congressmen let it happen? They are sitting back and watching rural America get flushed down the toilet. I'm sorry, I'm a young man, I'm a fighter and I'm not going to sit around and watch my dad's farm get flushed down the toilet.
The House is expected to take up emergency farm aid when it returns from its summer break next month. If the two houses agree on a final package and it's signed by the president this fall, farmers should see some of the money before Christmas.