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GOVERNMENT TO THE RESCUE AGAIN

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Farmers in Texas no doubt are starting to feel like addicts who keep having to take a new pill in order to counter the effects of the last one.

Only in this case, the pill is federal assistance that seems to be making a bigger mess at every turn - kind of like the old lady who swallowed the fly and ended up swallowing a lot of even bigger things in an effort to kill it.First, the Texas boll weevil was causing a minor problem, destroying about 5 percent of the annual cotton crop. That was enough to make the state and federal governments feel an urge to fly to the rescue.

Together, they started the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation. The federal Agriculture Department contributed $3.9 million to the program, which spread several chemicals on the plants, including malathion.

Since then, the beet armyworm has risen and mounted an artillery barrage that makes the boll weevil seem quaint by comparison. The armyworm's tactics are much more effective and destructive. Farmers in the Rio Grande Valley are expected to lose more than $200 million this year. Ironically, the areas treated for boll weevils will lose about 90 percent of their crops to the armyworm.

Coincidence? Hardly. Experts say the malathion destroyed insects that normally would have kept the armyworm in check.

Of course, some government experts dispute the connection. The Agriculture Department has swooped in again with $120,000 of taxpayer funds to study the cotton disaster. They intend to expand the boll weevil program.

Most farmers are familiar with what happens in the song about the lady who swallowed the fly. She's dead, of course. If they're wise they will politely refuse any more government rescues.