A farmer friend e-mailed me the other day about what work he had planned for the next couple months. He allowed that some farmers might even try to take a vacation. Not him apparently.
Do farmers have a hard time breaking away from their jobs, even in winter? Maybe there’s a cure. I took a vacation in Quebec, Canada last summer, where I found I was unable to steer clear of work e-mail and from visiting farms.
I suppose I should have felt guilty about that, but in fact, keeping an eye on the ag sights was about half the fun of the road trip for me. (Here's a short slideshow of a few of the sights: Quick Quebec ag tour.)
Maybe some of us are more likely to vacation if we feel a sense of purpose to our travel. Here are few ideas for winter vacations where you can combine fun with ag sightseeing--mostly places I've been, and a couple others I've just dreamed about.
* California wine country. The vast vineyards of Sonoma County, California, and the surrounding area, are amazing for their beauty and intensive grape production. You can see a whole different kind of equipment, agronomy and marketing in action. (Of course, you’ll want to sample a little of the crop along the way, too.) For a another view of California ag, drive west on I-80 toward Sacramento, then north on Highway 70 for a view of the diverse farms and ranches of the northern Central Valley. One of my favorite farming areas is in and around Sutter County, where you'll see rice, tree crops, vegetables, cattle ranches and more. Check out the big Sunsweet prune grower cooperative in Yuba City. Take a drive around the Sutter Buttes for a look at some unique Cali cattle country.
* Baldwin County, Alabama. The bottom half of this large agricultural county stretches from Mobile Bay to the Florida border with its renowned white sand beaches and resort communities—the “redneck Riviera" it’s been called. There’s good fishing in the surf and on the bayous. Visit the seafood stores on docks along the rivers to buy a catch of the day. North of the Gulf shore you’ll find a diverse farming landscape—where cotton, peanuts, vegetables, and a number of other crops are grown. And there are interesting small towns to explore, including Robertsdale, Fairhope and Magnolia Springs, where they deliver the mail by boat.
* Kissimmee, Florida. In late February, take in the Commodity Classic, the big conference of the season for corn, soybean, wheat, and sorghum growers and learn what’s new in technology, policy and marketing. Besides the built environment of Walt Disney World and other tourist attractions, you can drive over to Cocoa Beach on the Gulf to get the lay of the land. Central Florida also offers a fifty-mile chain of lakes, including Lake Tohopekaliga, which is famous for its bass fishing.
* South Texas. The area is a "great place for a lot of reasons," says Ray Jenkins, an Iowa-based grain marketing expert. The southernmost counties of Hidalgo and Cameron are reliably warm and relatively inexpensive to visit, and you'll find plenty of farmer-snowbirds for company, he says. At nearby Padre Island you can catch a boat tour that goes up the area shipping channels. Sugarcane harvest occurs in the area all winter long, so you can see some unusual harvesting and hauling equipment in the countryside, Ray says. Another day trip is a visit to the King Ranch in the Kingsville area. Plus, beginning around February 1, you can watch the U.S. corn planting season get underway, well before you have to head home and tune up the planter.
* Kansas City. On January 29-31, attend the 2013 AG CONNECT Expo and Summit, what's becoming the global destination for all things machinery and ag education. Related attractions include the cool shopping and entertainment districts of KC, all the great barbeque joints, and the Agriculture Hall of Fame in nearby Bonner Springs.
* Brazil. While winter up here, it's the growing and harvest season for corn and soybeans in South America, and the countryside offers a chance to see how our competitors are faring. Mike McGinnis, Agriculture.com markets editor who covers Brazil, suggests the state of Bahia and the town of Luis Edurardo Magalhaes, where you can find a number of Midwest U.S. farmers. From there, you can head straight east to the beautiful northeast coast of Brazil and its lush beaches. Another option, Mike says, would be to visit the far southern part of the country, near the Argentina border. Besides visiting farms there, you can take in the spectacular waterfalls near Foz, Brazil.
* Tulare, California. The World Ag Expo, February 12-14, held in the heart of the agricultural Central Valley of California, claims to be world's largest annual agricultural exposition, with more than 1,400 exhibitors displaying the latest in farm equipment, communications and technology on 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space. I've never been, but would love to see California's take on farm technology as well as the surrounding "salad bowl" of U.S. agriculture.
Any other suggestions?
Photo: California Travel & Tourism Commission / Mering