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10 May, 2008 - A View from the Air

It is a Cessna 210, single-engine airplane that has been officially dubbed “Air Orion”. For the past 24 years I have spent many hours with my pilot in that airplane traveling thousands of miles to cover agricultural events all across the nation.

I thoroughly enjoy looking at America’s farmland from the air because it is so very revealing in so many ways. The past two weeks I have taken three trips in the airplane; most recently, a trip from Chicago to Cedar Rapids, Iowa a week ago. We flew at 1,800 feet because, I told my pilot, I wanted to fly low enough to see what kind of seed corn farmers were planting. I couldn’t see that, of course, but I did see a lot of corn being planted across that part of America’s heartland.

It always amazes me as I look down at some of the richest farm land in the world, stretching from horizon to horizon as far as my eyes can see and I marvel at the fact that we have people and machines that will turn this now-barren land into productive fields. It also takes me back to the food vs. fuel argument that gets more attention in national media every day from writers and commentators who love to blame ethanol alone for higher food prices. It just reinforces my belief that the price of crude oil is far and away the main factor in the complex arena of food pricing.

To the critics who give the oil industry a free ride, I would point out that those fields below Air Orion will need to be tilled, fertilized planted and harvested before they produce food. Each of those four trips will burn billions of gallons of expensive diesel fuel; and I would also remind them the fertilizer is petroleum-based and nearly double in price compared to last year. Oh, and don’t forget it takes a minimum of six different truck rides to get the product from the farm to the dinner table, again burning a lot of expensive crude oil product. Then add this to the mix; look at first-quarter profit reports...No. 2 ethanol producer ADM - $517-million; world’s three largest oil companies...BP, Shell and Exxon - combined profit of $25-Billion. I rest my case!

Now, back to the plane ride...the fields I flew over last week were brown or black and barren, but in a matter of weeks they will be bright green with very little soil showing between the rows and in a matter of months they will turn golden, as we harvest food from those fields to feed a hungry world. It is a miracle that takes place every year in this country, and I do hope that sometime this spring in that tractor cab you can take a moment to think about what you are doing to feed hungry people around the world. My final thought, if you have the opportunity sometime this summer, take a plane ride and look at your farm from the air; I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.


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