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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chopping Corn

The trucks and tractors are running 24 a day, stopping only for downpours of rain, here in South Dakota. We have our camper parked a parking lot in the center of Veblen, one of the many tiny towns in South Dakota with little industry other than farming. We have water and electric hookups, which is equivalent to the local parks (but not so scenic a view as when we've stayed at Roy Lake), at a total cost of $0.00 per night, due to the kindness of my mother-in-law's landlord.

The town has finally fixed their campground (four sites) and mowed the grass, for the first time in the many years we've been making these annual visits, but also raised their price from free to $20.00 a night. That may sound reasonable in some parts of the country, but the very nice park at Roy Lake (and several others throughout South Dakota) only charges $12 per night and includes bathhouses. We paid $21 a night for the only commercial campground we stayed in on the trip up - it had the same full hookups as the town has installed, plus cable TV and free shower facilities. The next town over gives visitors three free nights at their campground, then charges $10 a night; similar rates and free spots are found throughout the mid-west and we often spent under $10 a night for full hookups in city run campgrounds across upper Michigan on our last trip. I didn't check, but suspect the commercial campground in Sisseton doesn't charge much more than Veblen charges for their four mown spots near an unused ballfield.

So, what makes them think that they can get away with such high prices, especially in a town that is many miles off a seldom used interstate, a town that isn't on any road going to or from another major location? A town that has no real grocery store (sure, the co-op gas station has some stock, but not a lot more than many large convenience stores in the eastern states) and is more than 20 miles from even a very small version of a chain grocer (and 80+ from a city of sufficient size to have an actual department store, bookstore or mall).

Two things: first, there is now a commercial dairy operation at each end of the city limits (carefully placed in the county, just in case the city thinks they might get any tax money - apparently, unlike our local city, they haven't heard of strip annexation to extend fingers out roadways and then gobbling up any local industries while ignoring farmers that would use costly services) and, second, the influx of crews that are chopping corn. Dairy cows eat a lot of corn, but not picked field corn, where the ears are separated from the stalks after they have dried, or sweet corn, still on the cob. Instead, cows eat corn as silage - the entire stalk of corn, ears, tassels and all, is chopped up into a green mass and then piled for use later in the year. We arrived just as the chopping season was starting and they were expecting 20 crews to do the chopping. In addition to the actual chopper (photos to come later), there are many trucks used, as the chopper mows down a field without pausing and the trucks jockey into place to grab all the silage that comes out of it's chute, then make the dusty trip over to where they are weighed, dump and then several tractors are used to pile everything up and pack it down so that it will last for a long feeding season. Those chopping crews were the ones they were anticipating filling their campground (we only saw one there for the two weeks we were in town), but most probably ended up staying in motels in other towns nearby (none of those here, either).

So, there we were, with trucks driving thru town from early morning to night, tractors running the entire time as well (at least they shut down around 10pm - one year they went 24 hours a day), kicking up a green dust that covered everything and required washing your windshield every day, even if hadn't been anywhere. The only thing worse - now that there are feedlots and their holding ponds at each end of town, any still day or if the wind comes from either direction means the stench is so bad you can't stand to be outside. At least a northern or southern wind removes the smell, but one of those won't be a fix soon, as there are plans to put in a third dairy. Much of the surrounding areas is reservation land - and the native Americans are now mostly blocking these large feedlot operations. But Minneapolis uses a lot of milk and they have found at least one area in South Dakota that wasn't as aware of the downsides of modern dairies and fell for the promise of increased jobs revitalizing the town. Instead, few locals will work in the dairies (instead, large numbers of mostly illegal hispanics work in them) and much of the money is sent to families in other countries. The local bar has been remodeled (but is now owned by the dairy - as is much of the rental housing) and seems busy at night, but sitting on your porch and enjoying the evening is something that can only be done when the wind is blowing from the right direction. Somehow, it doesn't seem that life in this town has been improved in the several years that these dairies have been in operation.

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