This being the Fourth of July weekend, the melodic tattoo of fifes and drums comes rolling in from the Upper Midwest -- a group of Americans actually saying, thanks, but no thanks, Uncle Sam, we'd rather you didn't help us.
Revolutionary? Patriotic? Bull-headed? Well, keep reading.
Back in the spring, Rep. Arlan Stangeland, a farmer and conservative Republican from Minnesota, thought he would do his region a favor. He got the House Agriculture Committee to approve a federal support-loan program for sunflower farmers.
Just like corn, wheat, cotton or other commodities, the sunflower, a rich source of edible polyunsaturated oil, would have a federal price support. If market prices were low, the farmer could put up his seed as collateral and receive a price-support loan. Prices go back up, he pays off the loan and sells his seed at a heftier profit.
Fair is fair, said Stangeland, and his proposal sailed right through the committee. The sunflower, after all, is rapidly becoming an important new source of revenue for farmers, who this year have planted a little more than 4 million acres of them. Most of that is in North and South Dakota and Minnesota.
When the North Dakota Sunflower Council, a grower group devoted to expanding markets, got wind of the favor from Washington, fifes tootled and drums rolled. Same with a counterpart group in South Dakota. Neither one wanted a federal price-support program, and the mail headed to Capitol Hill.
"We're thoroughly confused about the Stangeland bill. We can't find out why he put it in. As we see it, we don't favor a program," said Paul Haroldson, a sunflower farmer near Minot, N.D. f
Added Larry Kleingartner, administrator of the council: "For now, it seems that Ronald Reagan's free-market approach to trade has caught farmers' eyes out here. Very, very few farmers have called us to say they wanted a support program.They want the sunflower to be a supply-and-demand crop."
If anything, he said, sunflower growers would rather see more federal assistance in promoting overseas sales. They now get some assistance from the Department of Agriculture and they think it's paying big dividends.
"Two years ago we were selling no sun oil in Japan. Today we're shipping sun oil at a rate of 12,000 tons a year and we envision more growth there. We feel there is a payoff on this kind of federal support," Kleingartner said.
All of this is well and good, in the view of Stangeland's Washington staff, but they think a sunflower support program will add stability to a growing sector of the farm economy. Moreover, said aide Barry H. Allbright, even if Congress finally goes along with Stangeland's idea, no farmer will be forced to participate.
Which is to say, appropriately enough for this particular weekend, it's still a free country. Toot-toot, said the fife. Rat-a-tat, said the drum.