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Talk to any farmer or rancher, or any small-business owner in a region dominated by agribusiness, and you'll hear the same thing: 1998 will go down as one of the worst years ever for farm commodity and livestock prices. The farm economy has been reeling from natural disasters, crop disease and extremely low prices.

The factors contributing to a tanking farm economy are numerous. Agribusiness producers are among the first in America's economy to be affected by the so-called Asian Flu economic troubles spreading west from the troubled Orient. About one of every three rows of American soybeans is destined for the export market, and when these foreign markets tank, our farmers feel it first.

Many parts of the Grain Belt were devastated by lousy weather this year, while other sectors produced a record bounty that tends to further depress prices. Record heat and drought devastated Texas and Oklahoma. Farm income is expected to be down 15 percent nationwide and far more in some states. Wheat prices are down 30 percent from the average for the last five years.

Congressional Republicans have responded with an emergency $3.9 billion farm aid package. The Clinton administration and its congressional allies responded, predictably, with a $7.1 billion package that would abandon the course charted two years ago with the passage of Freedom-to-Farm legislation.

There are no easy answers or quick fixes here. Spending money on the huge scale envisioned by the Democrats isn't the answer. The administration could help by redoubling export promotion efforts and working with Congress to pass some reasonable compromise farm aid package. Our best hope for a rebounding farm economy probably lies in economic recovery by our foreign trading partners.