ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ The nation's peanut farmers have agreed to assess themselves a fee to raise $10 million annually for researching and promoting their product.

The fee amounts to 1 percent of the money each farmer collects for his peanuts.

``It's basically going to mean we're going to have the money to get the message out about the health and nutritional benefits of peanuts,'' said Darvin Eason, a peanut farmer in Lenox and president of the 3,300-member Georgia Peanut Producers Association, which pushed for the program.

``The shelling industry and the manufacturers see that we're serious about promoting our own product,'' he added. ``I believe you're going to see a lot of the industry coming together.''

The U.S. Department of Agriculture mailed 23,080 ballots to eligible growers in May for a referendum on the program. Of the 5,415 ballots returned, nearly 67 percent supported it.

The proposal establishes a checkoff program similar to existing ones for everything from beef to popcorn to watermelons, in which farmers pay to help promote their products.

Some of the money also will pay for research on ways to reduce growers' production costs and develop new products.

A new National Peanut Board will administer the program under the Agriculture Department's direction.

Peanut growers will submit a list of nominees to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who will appoint the 10-member board. Each of the nine big peanut states _ Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico and Oklahoma _ will have one board member, with the 10th representing other peanut-producing states.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ The skies look grim to Arkansas farmers as they reach a pivotal point in the growing season.

The state has had lower than average rainfall this year and crops are withering in the 100-degree heat. Farmers say they need rain in the next 10 days.

Only half of the 3.5 million soybean acres in seven northern Arkansas counties are in irrigated fields, according to Richard Klerk, a Cooperative Extension Service agronomist for that area.

``The fields are at a critical stage,'' he said. ``Without any water, they could lose 50 percent.''

One Lonoke County soybean farmer said he's already lost.

``The last week or 10 days has really taken its toll. Right now, I've lost about 10 percent,'' said Bob Bevis of Scott, who owns 5,000 acres.

``If we don't get a rain pretty quick then the beans that don't die are just going to be little-bitty-shriveled-up and not worth anything,'' he said.

Klerk works with farmers to help manage their crops according to University of Arkansas recommendations. He also works with wheat farmers, whose planting and harvesting cycles have escaped the July and August heat and drought.

``We had a good crop in June and won't plant again until October or November,'' he said.