With this year’s planting reports showing that states like Illinois and Kentucky and others were way ahead of average in planting progress, this reporter was eager to see how things were growing in those states as we took an 18 hour drive last week from Venice, Florida to the western suburbs of Chicago.  What we saw was that a lot of corn was planted, a lot of soybeans are going in, lots of first crop hay has been harvested and thousands of acres of small grains will soon be combined ahead of double cropping soybeans. But in spite of the fact that many farmers got started planting corn in mid-April in some of those areas we drove through, we did not see one field that was knee high yet.  The tallest corn we saw was about calf high in southern Illinois just north of Carbondale.  During a gas stop in that region, I asked a local farmer, easily recognizable because he had his dog in his pickup, why the early planted corn wasn’t taller.  He told me, “we got a good start but then it rained and got d___ cold around here and it’s now just starting to warm up again.”  He also added, “but we’re lookin’ for a big crop this year.”

     While the early growth of the corn was a little surprising, the amount of small grains about ready for harvest was also something we didn’t expect to see.  Thousands of acres of wheat and other small grains are already a golden color and some fields have already been combined in anticipation of that double cropping season. That same farmer told us, “there’s more of that (double cropping) going on this year than usual.”  One major difference in fieldwork near the Kentucky-Illinois-Missouri borders this spring is that farmers are actually in the fields.  Last spring, during a similar road trip, the rivers were over their banks for miles and miles, bridges were washed out and fields went unplanted.  Some of those fields still show the remnants of the flooding and floating debris caused by overflowing levees and dams.

     But traveling for 18 hours along our interstate highway system in one day also means there are many more things to see and think about than just the progress of the crops.  From southwest Florida through most of Georgia there have to be more billboards and other outdoor advertising signs than along just about any other strip of highway in the country.  And they sell and promote just about everything.  Some of the most abundant signs we saw, sometimes as many as three or four in about a one mile stretch, all the way from Florida to Illinois, were for Lions Den Adult Superstores.  For as many signs as they had, they must have more stores around the country than Wal-Mart, although it would seem their merchandise line might be a little more limited and specialized.  We didn’t take the time to find out for sure, though.

    Another large group of signs along our route was dedicated to promoting the many colleges, universities, tech schools and other institutions of higher learning that dot the countryside.  We stopped counting those at about 200.  It seems the competition for students is getting greater as families downsize in regards to the number of children they have meaning the competition for those students is intensifying as those schools look to stay competitive in student numbers.

     The seemingly endless rows of signs along the roads also show what’s happening to the real estate market.  A couple of years ago, the many real estate opportunities listed on those boards promoted condominium and home ownership opportunities in new communities, on the water with many amenities were selling well over a half million dollars.  Now you can buy in those same communities, according to the roadside billboards, for between 200 and 400 thousand dollars.

     Not everything we saw along the interstate highways, though, was cornfields and billboards.  Near Effingham, Illinois, stands maybe the tallest cross anywhere that has no church to go along with it.  It’s 190 feet tall and at its base stands a small signs that welcomes truckers to get religion.  Apparently there are other such crosses along other highways in the country. One thing is for sure.  If they got every trucker who drives past that sign to get religion, we’d have to build a lot of new churches in this country.

     The signs we and other drivers pay the most attention to, though, are the gas price signs.  From Florida to Wisconsin, the price varied for unleaded regular from $3.27 a gallon in parts of Georgia to $4.08 a gallon around Chicago.  That must be a sign of something.