More than 30 key groups in the agricultural supply chain are urging Congress to work together to support infrastructure investments that will allow U.S. agriculture to remain healthy and competitive.
The groups sent a letter to a bipartisan group of senators and congressional leaders asking them to come together on an infrastructure package they say is vital to U.S. farmers and their domestic and foreign markets.
The letter was organized by Farmers for Free Trade with support from farm groups, truckers, waterway and port operators and manufacturers.
The groups ask that a package focus on the critical importance of infrastructure to U.S. agriculture and its ability to deliver products to market. They pointed out that investing in U.S. agriculture and infrastructure will protect and create jobs.
“It is essential that infrastructure legislation include much-needed investments in our dams, locks, inland waterways and ports as well as rural highways and roads, bridges, rail and broadband infrastructure,” the letter said.
“Once the best in the world, America’s infrastructure is eroding and, with it, American agriculture is losing one of the key advantages we enjoy over other countries,” the groups said.
The American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 report card gave U.S. infrastructure a grade of C-minus. Of the 17 infrastructure categories assessed, 11 were graded D.
The report notes a substantial maintenance backlog nationwide. In 2019, the U.S. ranked 13th in the world in a broad measure of infrastructure quality — down from fifth place in 2002, the letter said.
The letter listed some of the issues.
Most locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System have far exceeded their projected 50-year lifespan.
Waterway delays cost over $44 million per year and are increasing in frequency. These costs are ultimately borne by farmers.
Modern farm equipment is larger and heavier, putting added strain on rural highways and bridges designed for smaller vehicles, and only 9% of the roadways that connect ports to other modes of transportation are in good or very good condition.
In addition, U.S ports have experienced significant surges and backups in recent months that have hampered the ability of farmers to ship products overseas. Recent labor shortages in the trucking industry and shortages of pallets and foreign-owned containers promise to exacerbate these challenges.
“While the American Jobs Plan proposes a $17 billion investment in ports and inland waterways, we ask specifically that locks be modernized and that you work towards the $42 billion need identified by ASCE,” they said.
“We similarly ask that you ensure sufficient funding to repair our rural roads and bridges that are so critical to getting farm products to market,” they said.
Equally concerning is rural America’s broadband connectivity and the challenges that presents to farmers and rural communities, they said.
They also pointed out that U.S. competitors, including China and Brazil, are making significant investments in infrastructure to improve their competitive position.