We made a trip to see my in-laws last week in west central Minnesota. The reason for the trip was for the funeral of my wife’s aunt, someone she thought of very highly.
The distance is 215 miles each way and it is in a northwestern direction. That means we have a wide variety of routes available because we have to go a certain distance north and a certain distance west to get there.
It does not matter what arrangement we use as long as we are going either north or west.
After doing this for the 20 years of our marriage, I am getting acquainted with most of the towns in southwest Minnesota. And since we make this trip several times a year, traveling one route to get there and a different route to return home, I use that time to inspect anything of interest that I see on the drive.
The main observing I do is crop progress and conditions. Then there is a quick look at the inventory of machinery dealers as I pass by and farmsteads that can range from show places to downright shabby.
I keep mental notes on the state of the livestock farms I see on how they are doing as I drive byand anything else a snoopy person such as me likes to watch for.
In the small towns we drive through I have seen businesses open and close.
I have seen ethanol plants built and now operating where there was once crop land.
New roads have been built and, according to the screen on my GPS unit, I am driving on open ground where there is no road at all.
I am pretty much an agricultural tourist where ever I go. Driving across southwest Minnesota for more then 20 years has been an advantage in gaining familiarity.
Putting my familiarity of southwest Minnesota with my knowledge of my native northern Iowa gives me a great appreciation of farming and the people who populate this region.
For me this is home and I am as rooted here as any of the corn and soybeans plants that grow in the fields every year.
When I travel outside this area I know so well, I look at farms and agriculture in other parts of the country and compare them to what I know in the place I call home.
In other parts of the country I look for the number and sizes of grain bins that are on a farm. I look over their farm machinerychecking their size and age.
The size and conditions of the farmsteads tell me the general prosperity of the area I am driving through.
I also check the state of repair of their fences, if they have livestock facilities that are in use or sitting idle and empty, and many things that most people probably don’t even notice.
I look at the size of the elevators and the condition of the railroad tracks, looking for surface rust as an indication of recent activity.
I watch the trains themselves, counting the number of locomotives and the mix of railcars they are pulling.
The farther west I go, the more important irrigation becomes until it is a requirement to grow anything at all.
Because of all this, I am never bored no matter where I am driving.
For an agricultural tourist, it is a story that is being written and rewritten every year and never ends.
My wife has heard me say many times, “You just have to pay attention.”
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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