A nickel will get you a loaf of bread this week in North Dakota, where farmers are demonstrating against wheat prices they say are forcing them out of business.
Members of North Dakota's Farmers Union are selling 5-cent loaves in every county, usually outside the courthouse where farm foreclosures take place.Some customers are needy, but most just want to show they support the farmers.
"It appears the crisis in agriculture is getting to be a pretty severe problem, and as a banker I see more severe problems in the future if they don't get their point across," said James Helgeson, who was among the customers Tuesday.
Wheat prices have plummeted because of a worldwide glut.
A nickel is roughly the price farmers get for the wheat in a 1 1/2-pound loaf of white bread that sells for $1 to $1.25 in stores, farmers say. They receive slightly more than $2 per bushel for that wheat - about $1 less than last year and the lowest price in nearly five years.
To dramatize the problem, the farmers are selling store-bought loaves by the score.
"We're discovering that there are some really hungry people in our major cities," said Karl Limvere, a Farmers Union spokesman. "It shows the irony, that farmers can't make any money from their production and yet we have hungry people."
"I think perhaps it should have served as an eye-opener to a lot of people, as far as the disparity of prices," said James Wang, a county state's attorney who bought a loaf.
Farmers took a blow under the new farm bill sent to President Bush, which cuts $13.6 billion from farm programs.
The Farmers Union wants price guarantees for family farmers and an increase in the amount farmers can borrow from the government to pay their bills.
Albert Maruggi, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman in Washington, said Tuesday, "We're doing what we can to continue to push U.S. wheat sales."
Gov. George Sinner proclaimed this Farm Income-Rural Crisis Awareness Week.
The state has struggled through drought the past three years and has lost 6,500 farmers in the past 10, he said. "In North Dakota, net farm income has fallen by 60 percent during the past decade," the governor said.
Farmers reeled off other statistics: In 1980, 172 bushels of wheat paid for a refrigerator that cost $809. Ten years later, they said, the cost of that refrigerator has dropped to $712, but 282 bushels are needed to pay for it.