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Thousands of federal tax dollars paid to dead Virginia farmers

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It's that time of year for Axton farmer Bob Harris.

16 hour days, sun up to sun down and well beyond.

"It takes a whole of faith to be a farmer," Harris said. "I do a whole lot of praying in this business."

Sometimes those prayers are answered by mother nature.

But other times it takes the federal government to keep the farm up and running.

"When you get a disaster payment you've had a pretty bad year,":Harris said. "It's a farmers goal not to receive those payments for the most part. They're basically to help you out."

Nationwide, the federal government spends around $20 billion per year on programs like farm subsidies, soil conservation and crop insurance.

But a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last summer found some of that taxpayer money was funneled to dead farmers nationwide, $32 million in all, and it happened in southwest and central Virginia.

We pulled the records from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which is run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Between 2009 and 2010, 177 dead farmers in the Commonwealth received payments from the FSA, ranging from $28 to more than $67,000.

This includes five farmers in Campbell, Carroll and Pittsylvania counties totaling more than $3,500.

We reached out to the FSA about the improper payments.

A spokesperson said the agency is working to prevent this from happening again and since 2011 has reduced waste from two percent to 0.1 percent.

However, they were not interested in discussing past problems with improper payments.

It is important to remember that not every case of dead farmers receiving improper payments is fraud.

In some scenarios that money would go to an estate, spouse or family member to keep the farm running.

We asked Harris to provide some perspective about what goes into applying for subsidies through the FSA.

"The amount of work that goes into this process and the amount of documentation that it takes, it would be very hard to fraud, for lack of a better term, and to receive payments that are not deserved," he said.

While the fraud is only a small portion of the farm subsidy budget, Harris doesn't want people to get the wrong impression of Virginia farmers.

"I just don't want people thinking we're out there abusing the system and trying to go out there and make a living off the government," he said. "That's not what we are. We're out there, just a bunch of hardworking folks trying to make a living doing what we love."

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