FARGO, N.D. (AP) – Soybean farmers are pumped that a gas station here is selling biodiesel fuel even though the idea of building a biodiesel plant in North Dakota appears to be stalled.

The farmers have been promoting biodiesel fuel because soybean oil can be used in the mix. North Dakota produces about 3.5 million acres of soybeans.

A blend of biodiesel called B20 is being sold this summer at the Stamart station store, at a busy intersection off Interstate 29. It’s the first time the blend of 20 percent biodiesel fuel and 80 percent petroleum has been offered at the pump in North Dakota.

“We’ve always supported anything that’s an alternative fuel,” said Dirk Lenthe, the Stamart owner. “But biodiesel is also a good thing to add to diesel fuel because it’s something we produce around here.”

Producers were disappointed when a study showed the state could not support a biodiesel plant.

“It just isn’t the right time to do it,” said Terry Goerger, a soybean farmer and member of the North Dakota Biodeisel Steering Committee, which ordered the study. “The energy bill hasn’t passed … and there just aren’t enough incentives to produce biodiesel.”

One problem is the price. The biodiesel blend sells for about 25 cents more per gallon because of a higher cost of production, and it would need to be subsidized to be more attractive, Lenthe said.

The state is helping finance the current project, which Lenthe said is allowing him to sell the fuel at close to the same price as regular diesel. The B20 was selling for $1.67 per gallon early this week, compared with $1.65 for No. 2 diesel fuel, Lenthe said.

About 1,800 gallons of B20 have been sold since the pump opened on June 15, Lenthe said.

“We really haven’t pushed it real hard with advertising,” he said. “Right now we would just like to have people try it.”

Lenthe is using the B20 in his 2002 Volkswagen Jetta. His fuel efficiency has increased from about 42 miles to the gallon to about 45 miles.

“I think it’s kind of nice stuff,” Lenthe said. “I haven’t heard anything negative associated with it.”

Farmers are sold on the economic and environmental benefits of biodiesel, but offering it at the pump will help them gauge interest among other consumers, said Joel Thorsrud, a farmer and representative on the National Biodiesel Board.

“From my perspective, it’s encouraging to see our own product used by our neighbors,” he said. “It does cost a little bit more, so it might be prohibitive for truckers to use it.”

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) – About this time of year Iowa farmers usually wish for more rain to relieve their parched crops, but many are saying their fields are soaked and need a rest from precipitation.

Merlin Bishop said his crops were hit with about 7.5 inches of rain Monday afternoon.

“It’s amazing how fast the water came up and went down,” he said.

The fast-moving water left soybeans coated with mud, cornstalks and other debris plugging culverts and water standing in low-lying fields and ditches. The mud could keep the plants from getting enough sun.

“In some places, the water was probably 4 feet deep when it went through,” Bishop said. “I hope most of the crop is big enough (that) it will not be harmed too badly.”

Farmer Randy Rogers said his low-lying cropland was soaked with up to 5 inches of rain.

“There’s just too much at one time,” said Rogers, who recently replanted soybeans and hopes the rain won’t have drowned them out.

Iowa State University Extension crop specialist George Cummins said the large amounts of rain can create plant nutrient problems and nitrogen loss.

“The longer the water stays, the greater the risk of killing the plants,” he said.

There’s also an increased chance for diseases including corn leaf blight, root-rot and other fungal diseases.

“And there are still fields that need to be sprayed for weed control, but obviously farmers will be out of the fields for a few days,” Cummins said.

Some farmers are even giving up on replanting crops because they’re worried they wouldn’t mature in time for fall frosts.

Joel DeJong, an ISU crop specialist in Le Mars, said the good news is that subsoil moisture is recharged.

“Realistically, having that moisture now gives us the idea that we’ll have a pretty good corn crop,” he said. “We’re in pretty good shape.”

AP-ES-07-08-04 0323EDT

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