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Sun May 3, 2020, 10:21 AM

View From The Far End Of The Food Chain: A SD Ranch And What's Left Of The Town Supporting It

PERKINS COUNTY, S.D. — I live on a ranch. When I stand on the gravel road that runs along the section line by my house I can look in any direction across the waving grass and, other than the modest huddle of buildings and fencing that compose our ranch, see little evidence of human development. To say it is remote is like saying water is wet. We aren’t Iowa remote or Wisconsin remote. This is the American steppe, where the population density is one person per square mile.


Smithfield is near the end of the food supply chain; we are where it begins. On our drought-prone side of the state, where ruminants outnumber humans, there are no processing plants, just grass — vast, luminous expanses of grass — with intricate root structures that grow thick and deep. There are still custom butcher shops scattered across the hundreds of miles of open pasture, small mom-and-pop operations, remnants of a system that used to connect rural economies to the food they were producing. Now nearly all animals raised here are shipped elsewhere — to feedlots to be grain-fattened, and then to gargantuan facilities like Smithfield to be slaughtered.

I know some ranchers who are working to change this system, but many more lack the financial or political clout to innovate beyond the scope of their own operations. We are part of an industrialized system that treats animals and their caretakers as columns on spreadsheets geared toward achieving maximum profit. These columns ignore the physical realities of labor in animal husbandry, as well the dignity of the animals we husband, while saddling us with debt and draining resources from our rural communities.


We are used to watching businesses die, and we are also used to making do with what remains. The one cafe, the small truck stop, the grocery store and the feed store in the nearest small town are offering curbside pickup. Maybe these businesses will survive. Maybe they won’t. Our main street has been a half-ghost town for decades. As in most of rural America, commerce here was stripped back to essential services a long time ago.



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Reply View From The Far End Of The Food Chain: A SD Ranch And What's Left Of The Town Supporting It (Original post)
hatrack May 3 OP
Chainfire May 3 #1
Wellstone ruled May 3 #2

Response to hatrack (Original post)

Sun May 3, 2020, 11:49 AM

1. You need not worry

ADM will be willing to step in and take your troubles off of your hands, and your farmers and ranchers can move to a city and sell insurance.

You are right about the small towns. Whenever I travel for pleasure, I take the back roads. All of the former vibrant county seats, at least in the Deep South, are closed for business. The days of the busy Saturday on the Courthouse square is gone. Walmart came in, just out of the city limits, and drove all the mom and pops out of business. Out of state business bought up farms and let many go back to woods. Once our main industry was growing food. Now our biggest employer is a Canadian owned business that grows pot......Our second largest business builds caskets; oh the irony.

In my own rural county seat, the Courthouse square is either occupied by county and city offices or the buildings are unoccupied and crumbling. It is the cost of "progress."

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Response to Chainfire (Reply #1)

Sun May 3, 2020, 12:21 PM

2. Understand your plight.

Watched the demise of small town America through my five decades of Sales and Service Travel. Watch County Seat Towns all but dry up because of failed Politics and Privilege by a few. Watched my Customers close the doors because of those failed policies only to be saddled with a pile of bricks no one wants to buy or watched them just let the County have that building for Taxes owed.

Watched Farmers who used to feed out a few Cattle each year for market,now tending several hundred stockers and Feeders for the likes of Cargill,(quality beef and pork),Farmland(Tyson),and of course JBS(Swift).

In every case,these Farmers dollars used to turn seven times on Main Street,now his dollar maybe turns four times at best. Maybe be even less. Now he or she is just a paid hand earning a salary with out benefits. Yes there are Farmers making a go of it,but,with Subsides. Or as we used to call it,farming the Department of Agriculture programs.

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