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Farmers Block Canada Border

September 21, 1998

SWEETGRASS, Mont. (AP) _ Farmers and ranchers, angry about agriculture and trade policies they say are destroying their livelihood, staged a four-hour blockade here Monday to keep trucks carrying Canadian farm products from crossing the U.S. border.

Several hundred people began the blockade after a rally at this windswept border crossing.

Speakers denounced policies they said allowed cheap Canadian grain and cattle to flood U.S. markets and undercut U.S. farm prices. Signs read: ``Save our jobs, save our farms.″

``Our market just keeps slipping away from us,″ said rally organizer Ron Jensen of Sweetgrass. ``We just can’t afford to produce a bushel of grain for $2. The federal government says it costs us $5.54 to produce it.

There was no violence in the protest, and no truckers attempted to break through. Blockade organizers met with U.S. Customs officials, who agreed as a matter of safety to suggest that Canadian drivers park their rigs.

Protesters left one lane of the two-lane highway into Montana open, allowing other vehicles to pass through.

The rally took place as Montana stepped up its enforcement of regulations imposed on trucks transporting farm commodities from Canada. The governor said last week that starting today, Montana officials would accelerate their checks for compliance with regulations dealing with truck weight, livestock health and more.

Similar trade tensions led South Dakota state authorities to halt trucks carrying Canadian grain and livestock to make sure drivers had paperwork to show their cargoes were free of disease. Some trucks were turned back. North Dakota officials didn’t send anyone packing, but scores of truckers there also were pulled over and given a questionnaire about their cargoes.

After the blockade ended, about 10 trucks were parked at the U.S. Customs station, and another 15 were parked on the Canadian side.

Customs supervisor Larry Overcast said 300 to 500 commercial trucks ordinarily pass through the Sweetgrass station each day.

In a similar protest in North Dakota on Monday, farmers used a tractor to blockade a Canadian Pacific freight train. After about 20 minutes, they moved the tractor and let the train through.

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