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COL Farm Bureau embarks on ag policy study

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The North Dakota Farm Bureau is embarking on a two-year study of agricultural policy in the hopes of giving producers in the state a stronger voice on national issues.

"We'll try to put together a pretty comprehensive package of things that need to be done at the federal level to benefit North Dakota agriculture," said Devils Lake farmer Eric Aasmundstad, the group's president.

A nine-person committee that will be formed by early next year will meet about a dozen times and also hold public hearings, Aasmundstad said. The goal is to have a final report compiled in late 2005.

"They're going to be looking at tax issues, regulatory issues, transportation issues, whatever they think may have a direct or indirect effect on the business of agriculture," Aasmundstad said. "The more information we can give the folks in Washington to make the right decisions, the more confident we are they'll make the right decisions."

The Farm Bureau supported the federal farm bill that President Bush signed into law in May 2002, but the legislation is far from perfect, Aasmundstad said.

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Zoellick welcomes WTO decision on apples

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick welcomed a decision last week by a World Trade Organization appeals panel that Japan's restrictions on American apples were illegal.

The panel rejected all parts of Japan's appeal of a July 15 ruling that struck down measures the Asian country said were needed to protect its own apple trees from fire blight, a plant disease.

"This is very important for gaining meaningful access to Japan's market," Zoellick said in a statement. "We are committed to ensuring a level playing field for apples and other U.S. agricultural goods." Fire blight is a bacterial infection that affects apples, pears and roses, but not humans. Affected trees produce reduced crops and may die. The disease is carried between trees by rain, wind and insects and is widespread in the United States.

Japan, which does not have fire blight, imposed a series of strict rules on imports of U.S. apples. Even if infected apples did get into Japan, the panel said it was unclear that they could transmit the disease to Japanese plants.

Missouri study finds issues with barges

ST. LOUIS -- A University of Missouri study found that having the Army Corps of Engineers schedule barge traffic in locks would ease river traffic and make $2.3 billion in navigation improvements planned for the upper Mississippi River unnecessary.

The corps is considering the construction of as many as seven new locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Barge tows stretching up to 1,100 feet long now must separate in half to go through 600-foot-long locks, creating traffic backups.

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The school's Center for Transportation Studies studied the issue. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week that the report proposed that rather than building longer locks, barge traffic could be eased by a centralized logistics system, something like what air traffic controllers use to coordinate airplane takeoffs and landings.

Mark Muller of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, which commissioned the study, said that airlines, railroads and some retailers use elaborate logistics systems.

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