FARGO, ND (AP)--A judge refused Aug. 22 to order the federal government to stop collecting on disputed farm loans while a lawsuit over the loans is pending.

The farmers failed to show that they are likely to win their case, or that they will be irreparably harmed if the order were not issued, U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb wrote.

More than 100 farmers and ranchers from 16 states are suing the Department of Agriculture over a late-1980s farm bailout.

Under the bailout, thousands of people struggling through a deep slump in the agricultural economy were allowed to write off or restructure government loans.

Anyone who wrote off debt had to sign a 10-year agreement. The farmers and the government both argue the terms of those deals support their claims in the current dispute.

The government contends the farmers owe the government half the amount that their land increased in value since the agreements were signed. The farmers argue the government is only entitled to that amount if they sold their land or stopped farming within the 10 years.

They also contend that even though their land has increased in value, their ability to pay has not, due to continued tough times in agriculture.

In his order, Webb said he sympathized with the farmers' arguments about the "harshness" of having to pay for higher-valued land during poor economic times.

But he said the answer to the dispute likely lies with lawmakers, not the courts.

The farmers had argued the government would foreclose on their loans because they couldn't pay, and that "foreclosure and threatened foreclosure of a farm and farm home are ... irreparable harm."

Government lawyers have pointed out the USDA has not foreclosed on any of the disputed loans, about a third of which have been suspended.

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