The declining state of America’s infrastructure is no secret. From crumbling roads and bridges to leaky locks and dams, the secret to U.S. competitiveness on the world stage is in serious need of a facelift.
And nowhere is this fact more apparent than in America’s heartland, where farmers are wholly dependent on these resources to accomplish their urgent mission to feed, fuel and clothe the world.
The 2016 presidential election brought with it a renewed appreciation for these farmers and many other hardworking citizens in proud bastions of American industry. As a result, Democrats and Republicans alike have agreed it’s past time to reinvest in these communities — not just for their own benefit but also for the benefit of the American public, who rely on the goods these communities produce and the infrastructure needed to bring the goods to market.
The concept of infrastructure legislation grew out of this renewed appreciation, but given the global outbreak of COVID-19 and myriad other challenges over the past couple years, legislative action wasn’t really possible until now. And even today’s possibility comes with tomorrow’s risk, so keep in mind that politics could become a roadblock to policy. In fact, the last few days have seen a fair number of negative headlines related to planned infrastructure legislation, and many farmers have concerns with the way such an initiative would be paid for. Still, everyone agrees the need exists, and now is the time for U.S. farmers and their partners in industry to begin identifying their needs.
While waterway improvements are an undisputed necessary component of any effort of this kind, given the Sorghum Belt’s location on the High Plains, rail access and the need for a larger number of shipping points are more pressing problems. According to the April World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, USDA expects 79% of the 2020 crop to be exported by the end of 2020-21 marketing year. And given 32 million bushels from the 2021 crop have already been sold to China, exports will undoubtedly be of historic importance in the 2021-22 marketing year as well. Accordingly, greater rail access for interior sorghum farmers, facilities for loading containers for specialty markets like production of baijiu — a Chinese liquor made from water, sorghum, rice and wheat — and a larger number of shipping points will be top priorities for sorghum farmers.
In addition to these priorities, sorghum farmers stand to benefit significantly from any action encouraging sustainability, and infrastructure spending on new technology would have the parallel benefit of tackling the issue head-on. Availability of water for both drinking and irrigation will be a defining issue soon, so coming efforts to shore up our supply will be welcomed by farmers and the communities that support them.
Sorghum farmers especially will benefit from these efforts, as the crop uses one-third less water than corn and handles the heat much better, making it a key piece of the water puzzle.
From their transportation infrastructure to their soil, American farmers have long been the envy of world agriculture. Regardless of how the discussion over infrastructure legislation unfolds, we must be ready to advocate for the resources farmers need to be even more successful both growing their crops and transporting those crops to market.
U.S. agricultural competitiveness hangs in the balance.
Duff is executive vice president for National Sorghum Producers. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @sorghumduff.