A record $28 billion in direct assistance to U.S. farmers and ranchers - that's about half of farm income - was distributed by USDA in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Without USDA assistance, farm income would have hit its lowest level since 1984, according to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

"This is another difficult year for American farmers, and USDA has been there to help," says Glickman.

"I have no doubt that, in many cases, USDA assistance has meant the difference between small, family farmers surviving or going out of business."

The year's assistance to farmers included $8 billion for loan deficiency payments and marketing assistance loan gains and $11 billion for supplemental income assistance enacted in '99 and 2000.

Nearly $5.5 billion in additional emergency payments were just made to almost 1.4 million eligible farmers. About 97% of the emergency payments were issued in only two weeks.

Nematode Research Is Funded. Research on the genetics of root-knot nematodes, which cause $2-3 billion in damage to U.S. crops each year, will soon get under way thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

David Bird, a North Carolina State University plant pathologist, will lead the study. It will focus on genetic interaction between root-knot nematodes and the food and fiber crops they devastate.

The researchers' goal? To understand the genes involved in the interaction between the nematodes and plants during the infection process.

Green Beans Cause Problems. Some Kansas producers were being turned away at elevators and processors when their soybeans weren't meeting quality standards because of the green color, says Kansas Soybean Association Executive Director Dennis Morrice.

The green color, found in 15-75% of soybeans in Kansas, was the result of extended periods of over 100ΓΈ weather in many parts of the state this summer.

The state soybean association has been working with Kansas State University to find ways to reduce the green color and get crops sold.

Consortium Formed. Scientists from six institutions have formed the Midwest Consortium for Sustainable Biobased Products and Bioenergy. It will conduct research and technology transfer on biobased products and energy.

"The goal is to develop a new chemical industry in the Midwest based on agricultural feedstocks and biotechnology," says Colin Scanes, interim director of Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute.

Examples of bioproducts and bioenergy include plastics made from soybeans, building materials made from cornstalks and fuels made from switchgrass.

Besides Iowa State, the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory; Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, IL; the University of Illinois; Michigan State University; and Purdue University are all members of the consortium.

Weevil-Free. The Southern Rolling Plains zone in Texas is now boll-weevil free, according to Texas A&M University. The weevil, the No. 1 cotton pest in the U.S., has cost the 10-county area $2 million to $4 million/year and the state from $25 million to $50 million/year.

Texas' boll weevil eradication program has cost about $20 million to date.

Chem Dealers Use Internet. A nationwide survey of ag chemical dealers and distributors shows they're turning to the Internet for product and regulatory information. They plan to expand use of the Web for filing government reports, according to the survey, by Geomatrix Consultants, Inc., Fresno, CA, and Farm Chemicals magazine.