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A+ agriculture with a D+ infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their 2017 Infrastructure Report Card – an assessment of the condition of the nation’s infrastructure across 16 categories, including surface transportation, railroads, inland waterways and electrical grid.  The report card is issued every four years and can be reviewed at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/.

The overall grade given to the U.S. infrastructure incorporating all 16 categories is a D+.  Some of the grades for the individual categories that are consequential to the movement of farm commodities and other agricultural products are as follows:

  • Bridges: C+
  • Ports: C+
  • Dams: D
  • Railroads: B
  • Roads: D-
  • Inland Waterways: D
  • Levees: D

The report card estimates that between 2016 and 2025 (10 years), there will be a funding gap across all the infrastructure categories of $2 trillion.

“It’s hard to have an A+ economy and A+ agriculture with a D+ infrastructure,” said Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “In order to be profitable, it is not sufficient to stimulate supply and demand.  It is also essential to stimulate greater connectivity with supply and demand.  Transportation infrastructure provides that connectivity.”

Steenhoek argues that agriculture has one of the most diverse and elongated supply chains of any industry in existence and is heavily exposed to and dependent upon the nation’s system of roads and bridges, highways and interstates, inland waterways, railroads, and ports.

“Farmers do not have the luxury of locating themselves in proximity to infrastructure.  Rather, farmers hope infrastructure locates in proximity to them,” Steenhoek said. “The viability as an industry depends upon having each of these modes being properly maintained and providing seamless transition from one to the other.”

Steenhoek says a topic that receives less attention is how essential it is to have a robust amount of funding for improving infrastructure and just how essential it also is for federal, state, and local government to provide greater predictability and reliability of that funding.  When it comes to promoting our transportation infrastructure, he would rather the government be predictably good than sporadically great.

“Constructing and maintaining infrastructure is very expensive and requires years of planning and execution,” Steenhoek said. “It is much more effective when government can provide greater certainty of funding over a number of years rather than a surge of funding in one year and a scarcity of funding the next.  Because they do not provide this certainty – especially with regards to the nation’s lock and dam inventory – cost escalations and project delays become commonplace”

It is very apparent to Steenhoek that additional funding is necessary.  The Soy Transportation Coalition, for example, funded and disseminated analysis a couple years ago that suggested indexing the fuel tax to inflation so that revenue to improve roads and bridges can better keep pace with the costs of doing so.  However, he says it is also important for federal, state, and local government to demonstrate better stewardship of taxpayer dollars when maintaining and improving infrastructure.

“Before the government asks more from the taxpayer, it should ask more from itself,” Steenhoek said. “There are opportunities to institute and employ best practices so that taxpayer dollars can be stretched further.”


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  1. Finally, an infrastructure piece. What good is trade if you can’t ship your product to market? Also closely related is the building of oil pipelines so we can get the oil off the rails which competes with and displaces grain shipments and suppresses prices.

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