One of President-elect Biden’s early initiatives following his inauguration could be a comprehensive infrastructure plan and it will be important that both urban and rural interests are included in a final package. With fewer House members from a rural district, it does intensify the need for agricultural voices to be heard.
The Soy Transportation Coalition said it is hopeful that amidst all the political acrimony dominating Washington, D.C., transportation remains one of the few opportunities for significant bipartisan agreement. “One of the best opportunities to make a bipartisan first impression as a newly installed president will be to address our nation’s transportation challenges, including those in rural America,” says Mike Steenhoek, STC executive director.
“If we hope to see the U.S. farmer remain the most competitive in the world, it will require sufficient investments in each link in the agricultural supply chain – rural roads and bridges, highways and interstates, freight railroads, the inland waterway system, and our ports,” Steenhoek adds.
But as seen during the Trump Administration, there can be great intentions to make bold infrastructure policy moves, but it requires the right public versus private partnership to advance any final product.
Agricultural producers are the single largest user of freight services, comprising 17% of freight movements across all transportation modes in dollar value and 33% of all ton-miles. In 2017, 2.9 billion tons of agricultural products worth $2.5 trillion moved on the freight network. The USDA released a report, The Importance of Highways to U.S. Agriculture, prepared in close partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to highlight the importance of highways to U.S. agriculture, especially as focus turns to improving infrastructure.
Agricultural commodity flows show that 80% of domestic agricultural commodities travel on 17% of the U.S. highway mileage. The USDA study’s findings show that state-planned highway freight investments are estimated to produce $540 million per year in truck operating cost savings. If highway infrastructure investment is increased, at a level 2-4 times current state freight plan investment levels, the study finds these investments will still be highly cost-effective.
This data as well as USDA report published in August 2019, The Importance of Inland Waterways to U.S. Agriculture, reiterate the need to invest in infrastructure.
While speaking at an AgTalks series on Dec. 15 sponsored by Farmers for Free Trade, National Corn Growers Association chairman Kevin Ross says infrastructure is vitally important to farmers, especially to his farm in southwest Iowa near the Missouri River. He notes this river, as well as the Mississippi River, acts as an artery that is “so vitally important for agricultural exports.”
“We need to see an infrastructure plan in place for these rivers,” Ross says.
Mary Andringa, chair of the board for Iowa-based equipment manufacturer Vermeer Corporation, says the American Society of Civil Engineers rates America’s infrastructure as a D+. Improvements are needed if American agriculture is to retain its position as a global leader, she says.
Ryan Quarles, president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, adds if he had a crystal ball, he would suspect a likely infrastructure bill during the upcoming year. “It could be big and bold,” Quarles says, adding Congress needs to hear about rural needs including an emphasis on getting rural America broadband connectivity.
In a report released by the coalition, it notes the gap between needs and current conditions is wide. “Federal and state governments need to prioritize infrastructure funding and recognize such spending as a long-term investment in American competitiveness. Such investments should include a focus on all infrastructure that facilitates U.S. exports including roads, bridges, rail, ports, inland waterways, and information technology infrastructure,” the report states.
“Private-public partnerships could be employed where appropriate to help reclaim America’s infrastructure advantages. Regulations should be reformed and modernized to ensure that the most pressing projects can be realized in a timely manner,” the report adds.