Column: Notes from the air

For the past three weeks, I’ve seen a lot of things from the air. Whether it’s flying over the Rhine in Germany, the Mississippi Delta or the wide-open spaces of eastern North Carolina, fields look pretty much the same from the air.

The differences really come once you get on the ground. In Germany, many of the farms are small. In the Delta, the outline of where the center pivot puts a shadow over the land, lets you know where the crops have been irrigated. The fields seem to connect for miles. The plane’s shadow moves uninterrupted on the ground, going straight through a tractor in the field.

I’ve always heard that agriculture is different.

The best way to get into this idea is to see the differences between regions or even between countries.

I see tobacco in North Carolina, along with many other crops. But I expect to see tobacco in North Carolina. I expect to see cotton in many regions, but my mind has been trained to associate large cotton fields with the Delta. I expect to see peanuts in the Virginia Tidewater region, and in Georgia.

I expect to see cotton fields when I fly into Huntsville, Ala., in the Tennessee Valley.

On the plane to Germany, I’m talking with a French-born chemist who’s telling me that without government support, many farmers wouldn’t make it. There are a lot of small farms in the area around the Colgone area. Farm support in the European Union is legendary, the reason being used is that the Europeans remember what it’s like to starve and don’t want to face that situation again. It’s something to consider.

If the premise that agriculture is a different bird is true, it may fly in the face of what’s been in progress for more than a decade or two.

I’m for free trade. Even for fair trade. It’s inevitable we hear that the world is now a global community.

Go to Germany and you can hear better English that what’s spoken here at times. That was an eye-opening experience. I didn’t expect to hear English in Germany. Times, they have changed.

I wonder just how much they will change. In the future, will you see the same mix of crops as you fly over North Carolina? Will cotton fields continue to be king in the Delta?

The decisions for the next generation of ag policy are being made now in places like Geneva, Switzerland. Farm bills are important, but it’s likely that world trade policy will dictate just how many changes have to be made. They may have to bow to the WTO rules in the future. Afterall, we’re a world player.

Give it 10 years, then get on a plane to Memphis and note just how everything looks the same from the air. Then land, and take notes.

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