No quick fixes for farmers

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 26, 2002

Farmers, agri-business representatives, scientists and a Congressman all gathered Thursday in a hot and dry field on Hare Road in the Holland area of Suffolk. Each person there arrived searching for solutions to their agricultural dilemmas and all were looking toward Congressman of the Fourth District J. Randy Forbes for answers.

Forbes was the keynote speaker for the annual &uot;Field Day,&uot; an event sponsored by Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research & Extension Center (TAREC).

TAREC’s Annual Field Days serve to educate farmers with the latest in scientific data on crops, new types of farm equipment and demonstrations that show how to improve productivity on the farm.

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The Rev. Dolan A. Talbert of Holy Neck United Church of Christ opened the meeting by asked God to bless the farmers and their labors in the soil.

Following a luncheon served by the Holland Ruritans, Forbes stepped up to the podium to speak to farmers whose crops are currently drying and dying in the field. He’s familiar with the plight of the farmers since he serves on the agricultural committee. He also understands their great concern over the disappearance of price supports for their crops.

Prior to the loss of the &uot;peanut price supports,&uot; peanuts were like nuggets of gold for most of Suffolk’s producers. Now that peanut prices have dropped from $610 per ton to around $355 per ton, local farmers are feeling the pinch. What was once the number one crop across Suffolk is now losing ground to less profitable ones.

&uot;Let me tell you that farmer is not sweating just because of the sun,&uot; said Forbes. &uot;He’s sweating because the rules have changed and they’ve changed right under his feet. While he was trying to decide when to plant, what to plant, or whether he should plant at all, Congress could not decide what the rules should be. They waited far too long to pass the new farm bill.&uot;

Forbes said that Congress is still working for a final version of the farm bill, and he’s asked his colleagues to implement the &uot;peanut version&uot; of the bill next year.

&uot;The peanut program is the most significant change on the entire bill,&uot; said Forbes while the farmers nodded in agreement. &uot;I argued that it should be exempted from the change until we’ve had a chance to figure out how to deal with the changes.&uot;

Every farmer at the meeting knew that Forbes’ idea bit the dust.

&uot;Now, here we are at the end of August and we still don’t have all the details on implementation,&uot; he added.

Forbes added that opposition also arose when target prices for the preferred Virginia-type peanuts were discussed.

Forbes also pointed out that farming is not just economics, but a way of life and it is important to keep that way of life alive.

&uot;Day after day when farmers go out of business there isn’t anybody coming along to take your place,&uot; he added. &uot;It’s too expensive, it’s too hard and too tough to put everything on the line. This is a national security issue because if we wake up down the road and we’re dependent on all these foreign countries for our food supply, that is just as dangerous as being dependent on them for our oil or our steel or anything else that’s out there.&uot;

Forbes said his grandfather was a farmer and his brother farmed until the 1980s and he is well aware that farming is the backbone of America.

&uot;These are the people who built America and we can’t just throw them by the wayside,&uot; he said.