Rural economy has fluctuated with uses of grain alcohol, from smuggling to ethanol plants – Agweek

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Harvest, aided by little to no rain, is ending quickly in southern Minnesota. The ground is very dry and rain is needed. Conditions were ideal for rolling corn stalk bales and fall dry nitrogen applications where permitted.

A steady stream of trucks delivers corn to the nearby ethanol plant, which began as a farmer-owned cooperative. Member farmers have pledged to deliver maize to the factory in hopes of earning additional profits.

Minnesota has 18 such factories, most of which started as cooperatives. Five ethanol plants operate in North Dakota, 15 in South Dakota and 40 in Iowa. Ethanol production is in many ways rural America’s greatest economic development tool outside of agriculture.

A cleaner environment and greater energy independence have been an easy sell, although there are still resisters. Critics argue that the environmental benefits of ethanol are grossly oversold and government incentives that include mandatory use are misguided.

There was a time when corn and other grains were raw materials for illegal purposes. President Woodrow Wilson established a temporary ban on the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol in 1917 to conserve wartime grain supplies. Many women who had only recently gained the right to vote and male activists applauded the move and sought to make the ban permanent.

Their reasoning – domestic violence would decrease with juvenile delinquency and crime, and husbands would bring home more money – seemed sound. Industrialists like Henry Ford said that without alcohol, worker productivity would increase. Milk sales, it was thought, would skyrocket as former drinkers turned to healthier beverages.

Prohibition began with the passage of 18e Amendment in 1920 and would remain law until 1933. It was around this time that Dad saw luxury cars and trucks driving down narrow pasture lanes at nightfall.

There was little violence, though Dad was convinced the men were Chicago mobsters armed with Tommy guns. Respectable citizens also engaged in smuggling, although not all did so for financial gain.

The mother was not opposed to the consumption of alcohol in moderation, but preached against its abuse. Dad said a beer or two at a wedding dance relaxed his muscles so he could move smoothly on the dance floor when a polka band was playing.

When dad started slowing down, he and mom rarely missed watching the Lawrence Welk show, which aired from 1951 to 1982 and continues to air as a rerun on some public television stations.

Welk, as most of you know, was born in a sod hut in Strasburg, North Dakota to Russian immigrants in 1893. The house and small acreage was added to the Federal Register of Historic Places .

In any case, the “champagne music” of Welk and the Champagne Lady Norma Zimmer seemed disconnected for a teenager who had only just discovered rock. Decades later, the show grew in appeal to me.

Dad had (besides baseball, which he followed religiously) only one other show he refused to miss. It was the Heroes and Villains of Pro Wrestling, airing Sunday mornings right after church and chores. He swung a fist when another wrestler broke the rules and yelled at the blind referees who ignored the cheating.

The good guy Verne Gagne was his hero and champion who defended his championship against all competitors. Mother didn’t share his interest in wrestling and retreated to the living room to read a book or work on a blanket.

The wooden frame that held the current cover took up most of the living room. The end product – a beautiful blanket that in most cases would be given as a wedding or Christmas present – was almost as perfect as it gets. The mother never admitted perfection, choosing instead to point out the slightest flaw to her guests.

Modesty forbade him to do anything other than that.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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