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Byline: Greg Edwards
Jan. 21--Most people like to eat. And if they don't like to eat, they at least have to occasionally.
Throughout U.S. history, Americans have recognized a need to support the farmers who feed them. The result has been a country whose agriculture is the most productive on earth and whose citizens pay some of the lowest prices for food.
Federal support goes to grain farmers on Virginia's Northern Neck, cotton and peanut producers in Southeast Virginia, and hundreds more of the 49,000 farmers of all sorts scattered across the state from Parksley to Cumberland Gap.
One of those farmers is 53-year-old Wayne Pryor, who raises beef cattle and grain in western Goochland County.
"We in this country are very blessed to have the safest and most abundant food supply of anywhere, and since September 11, it's that much more important to see we have a secure food supply," said Pryor, vice president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farmer organization.
Congress is once again cobbling together a farm bill, which will incorporate a variety of farm support programs. A key underlying issue is whether the income-type of support for farmers that has characterized federal farm policy since the Great Depression is good for farmers and consumers and to what degree it should be continued.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the farm bill on Oct. 5. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee is to resume debate on its bill after the Senate reconvenes Wednesday.
When Virginia farmers look at what Congress has done so far, they see much that they like. Still, many are unhappy with Congress' treatment of the state's peanut growers and dairymen. They also worry that the worsening economy may take its toll on government support for agriculture.
"We're watching the general farm bill and certainly we have mixed emotions about the idea we didn't get one passed [in 2001]," said Wilmer Stoneman, a lobbyist for the Farm Bureau and a former Henrico County farmer. "Some …