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What a difference a year makes. At the end of August 2014, grain elevators and farmers in central South Dakota were fretting about how to get enough train cars to get some of the wheat harvest out of our grain bins and elevators and in some cases, off the ground — they were trying to move some of it to market before the corn and other row crops started coming in from the fields.

This year grain elevator managers tell us the situation is much better. They say much of the credit goes to the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad, a new company that began operating in June 2014 but has already acquired a deft hand at managing the competing requests for cars up and down its lines.

That's one way to solve central South Dakota's transportation issues. We'll simply never outgrow our need for trucks and trains when it comes to moving our raw commodities to market. We need companies that do that work and do it well.

But another way to address that same problem of how to get our grain to where it's needed is simply to change the destination for our raw commodities. The very fact that we are so far from the places that want to buy our grain means our grain is cheap — buyers in other states and local grain elevators can't afford to pay as much to the farmer because of the cost of shipping involved.

That is a drawback to the farmer; but not necessarily to the processor who is buying that grain — provided the processor doesn't have to ship it so far.

That is why area investors in a project at the outskirts of Onida are already raising support for a plant that will allow farmer investors who grow the grain right here to also become processors — they'll use the corn grown in central South Dakota to make ethanol.

Along with a pulse crop processing plant that is to be built in Harrold, these two projects could signal a new direction for central South Dakota. Let's trust there are similar ventures still to come.

We should do what eastern South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota have been doing for far longer and start processing right here what we grow right here.

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Yes, that has the side effect of raising the local prices for the crops we raise, but farmers shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the real opportunity is the chance to join other investors in becoming processors of grain, not just producers.

We can grow an agriculture processing economy right here along with what else we grow; but we might have to change our thinking a little bit in order to do it.

— The Capital Journal, Pierre

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