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Argentine Farmers Strike to Protest Leftist Government Policies

FILE - Soybeans are loaded into a sowing machine in the town of Estacion Islas in Buenos Aires province, Nov. 27, 2012.

Most Argentine farmers halted crop sales on Wednesday, a farming group said, kicking off a three-day strike that will reduce the delivery of grains to port but is unlikely to affect exports because of sufficient reserves in storage.

Three out of the four largest farming groups in the South American grains powerhouse are taking part in the strike to protest leftist President Cristina Fernandez's interventionist government policies, which they say erode their profits.

"The halt to sales is widespread throughout the country," said Luis Etchevehere, president of the Argentine Rural Society. "We're demonstrating against government policymaking over the last 12 years that just hasn't worked."

Farmers in Argentina, the world's top soymeal exporter and a major source of corn and wheat for world markets, threatened more protests on Tuesday if the government did not respond to their grievances.

Argentina imposes export quotas on wheat and corn in order to guarantee strong supply levels locally and keep consumer prices low. It also levies a 35 percent tax on soybean exports that growers say kills their profits.

Fernandez's government was shaken by a widespread farmers rebellion in 2008 that reduced exports for months and cut into government revenue. Relations with farmers have been strained since then.

Growers warn they will make sure their grievances are heard ahead of October's presidential election, calculating that the president will be keen to avoid unruly social unrest or a blow to government finances ahead of the vote.

However, Fernandez's cabinet chief, Anibal Fernandez, on Wednesday took a veiled swipe at big farming bosses: "This is not a strike," Fernandez told reporters. "It is a lockout by bosses who handle a certain level of production."

Fernandez is barred from running for a third consecutive term in office and the three front-running presidential aspirants are considered more market-friendly.