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Rome's splendor reminder of importance of agriculture

They say all roads lead to Rome. My route was a circuitous one, going through Bologna, for the International Exhibition of Agricultural Machinery Industries (EIMA Farm Show).

The show, sponsored by the Italian Machinery Manufacturers Association, is one of the world's largest, filling 40 buildings with 1,700 exhibits featuring equipment as exotic as movable soil sterilizers and mechanical grape harvesters.

This year's show drew 114,000 people; many of them farmers, most of them Italian (although 8,000 foreign visitors attended).

The weather was ideal for a farm show — it rained every day. The number of visitors overwhelms the hotel facilities in Bologna, so many show-goers ride trains from surrounding cities to see the latest innovations.

Europe's economy is suffering through the same economic downturn as that of the United States and other industrialized nations. But Europe's farmers, helped by the subsidies of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, have not been hurt as badly as their American counterparts.

The president of UNACOMA, the organization that runs the EIMA show, forecast that Italian farm equipment production and sales would be up about 2 percent in 2002 after declines in 2000 and 2001.

The increase, he said, would be mainly due to exports since the Italian market has remained “stable” compared to 2001. Italian dealers were expected to sell 33,713 tractors in 2002, up from 33,419 in 2001.

Traveling through the Italian countryside from Bologna to Florence to Rome, you see acre after acre of small, intensively managed farms. Quarter-acre vineyards and one- and two-acre fields dot the hillsides in a testament to what can happen when a country is determined to preserve its farm sector no matter how high the subsidies.

You couldn't help but think about the number of farmers involved in those small, neatly manicured farms or that some of the land you were seeing helped feed the Roman legions that conquered the known world before Christ's birth.

Rome is a feast to the eyes of places that you've read about and seen in pictures. The traffic and pandemonium of rush hour also give you a greater appreciation for the solitude of the back roads in places like the Mississippi Delta and the Texas High Plains.

We have all read volumes about the glory of Rome and its buildings and art treasures. But little is said about how none of that would have been possible without the advances in farming techniques in the 1,000 years before the establishment of the Roman Empire.

On another front, Trent Lott's resignation as Senate majority leader can't help but make you wonder about the feeding frenzy that passes for political coverage by the national media.

While farmers haven't always agreed with the senator's stands, they have to be saddened by the treatment Lott received for remarks that he probably wished he could have recalled moments after he uttered them.

In another era, Lott could have stood firm while the media lost interest or another story displaced his.

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