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Farm Aid Kicks Off Week of Lobbying
By Mark Steil
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In Washington, farmers from around the United States will push Congress for emergency assistance and other legislative solutions to agriculture problems. The annual Farm Aid concert yesterday in Bristow, Virginia - near Washington - kicked off several days of lobbying by farmers who say basic changes must be made in government farm programs. Among those in Washington are some 30 Minnesota farmers.

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Listen to a portion of Neil's Young's speech at a forum prior to the Farm Aid concert.
THE POLITICAL LINES DIVIDING FARMERS ARE sharply etched as Congress gets ready to act on a more than $7 billion relief package for agriculture.

This week's Washington lobbying effort is organized by the National Farmers Union, which usually lines up with the Democrats. More than 200 farmers will fan out across Capitol Hill to talk with senators and representatives.

The Farmers Union wants Congress to change the landmark 1996 Freedom to Farm bill, which governs federal agriculture programs. Republicans generally favor keeping the bill as it is. Freedom to Farm opponents say the legislation destroyed the safety net which caught farmers when commodity prices fell as they have over the last two years.

At a forum held before the concert began, Minnesota banker Jan Lundebrecht of Benson said farmers are stretched out trying to make with grain and livestock prices that are lower than the cost of production.
Lundebrecht: I just came from President Roosevelt's monument, and I started out and went through the tumult of the years and thought, oh, are we ever in the tumolic season where the rocks are falling all over. We need everybody to come back and help us. Let's get together. We're not asking for a monopoly. We're just asking for a fair price.
The concert is both a political event and a fundraiser. At the forum, Fair Aid organizers - singers Willie Nelson on and Neil Young - urged everyone to lobby Congress for change.

Young says there's a pattern of corporate domination of agriculture that hurts not only U.S. farmers, but farmers worldwide.
Young: Why is it that for the last three or four years, in the name of helping and of supplying bread to the world, that we have done what we have done; that we have gone in and undercut all the local farmers in every little country. Every little country gets the same treatment that our heartland gets.
The theme of the corporate takeover of agriculture dominated the Farm Aid forum. South Dakota producer Shayne Colt says small family farmers can't compete with corporate might.
Colt: When megamergers are accepted. When anti-trust laws are not enforced. When vertical integration is allowed to happen, my seven-year-old can tell you what the consequences are. With no market, big shots get rich and dads go broke.
In its battle with corporate giants, Farm Aid has enlisted some heavyweights of its own. Best Buy, MCI Worldcom, and America Online are some of Farm Aid's corporate farmers. The corporate link are some of Farm Aids new strategy of finding new ways of getting its message out to 98% of the country not engat3ed in agriculture.

Idaho farmer Mabel Dobbs put it this way.
Dobbs: We must stop the corporate takeover of the food supply in this country. Everybody pays the price for corporate greed. All Americans pay the price by not being able to know where the meat on the dinner table came from, and all the safety concerns that go along with that. Everybody pays the price for having the quality of your air and water threatened by the confinement of huge numbers of animals in limited spaces.
So far, there has not been a widespread consumer interest in farm issues, but there are signs that may be happen. There's growing concern over genetically modified food and the question of bacterial and other contamination of meat. Supporters of small family farms hope to direct that interest to their side and use it to gain more government help in what they see as a fight to the finish with corporate farm companies.