This coming week I will be flying across the southern tier of states. Traveling in an airplane at elevation gives you a perspective of farm fields like no other.
At 30,000 feet the mostly rain-fed fields of the East are patchy in the landscape, tree lined and blend with the contours of the land. As you hit the Mississippi Delta the patchwork of fields becomes denser, borders more defined.
The expanse of the lower plains is broken up by crop circles as center pivot irrigation systems make distinctive impressions on the countryside. As you move into the Desert Southwest, the fields snuggle into river valleys where the land is arable with easy access to water in the arid environment.
I love checking out the fields and farmland from above. It's more entertaining for me than television. I know a few farmers who feel that way, too.
A lot of farmers know the layout of their farms like the back of their hand, because they are able to fly over their fields in their own aircraft. My dad parked his two-seat tail dragger out behind our home and took it up at every opportunity to "checkout the crop." He also did a few aerobatics while up there.
Flying over the crop affords the opportunity to see irrigation, pest, disease and nutrient problems one might not see from the ground. Dad and I would occasionally fly upriver to see how storms were affecting the area and if we could expect to get some high water.
When I worked for cotton, I often thought it would be a good idea to get a small Piper Cub with which to visit my gins. They are small planes that can land almost anywhere. If it's in your blood, any flat surface, like a gin yard, is an inviting spot to land a plane.
My dad, who is now retired from the farm, still flies to breakfast or lunch with some of his flying farmer buddies. The other day he told me that he and about 20 of his friends, in about as many different planes, ended up at an airport diner somewhere in Arizona recently.
The organization, International Flying Farmers, says that, "Cessnas and Beechcrafts and Pipers are no different from their combines, tractors, and pickup trucks." Each grower has their favorite tractor — red, green, yellow, blue — just as each flying farmer has his favorite aircraft.
I also understand why many farmers who fly their own aircraft would rather take their "farm" plane to a meeting or tour than board a commercial jet. I've accommodated several who thought it was a better idea to fly themselves.
I don't have that opportunity. So, I'll be the one, sitting in the airliner window seat checking out the land below, trying to figure out what's happening in that field.