This lock on the Ohio River lowers barges around 25 to the water level below the dam.

Infrastructure bill moving forward

By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo

From the local bridge just around the corner to the locks and dams on the nation’s river system, agricultural viability depends heavily on infrastructure. After months of across-the-aisle negotiations, the Senate voted to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package (H.R. 3684) in August.

“This is a very notable move forward. It passed through the Senate with a very bi-partisan vote of 69-30, 19 Republican Senators voted for the legislation. Early on this year, the topic of infrastructure was really expansive. There were a lot of things being discussed that really don’t have a lot to do with what most Americans regard as infrastructure. It has tightened up and we think that is a good thing,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “We appreciate there are a number of categories within this legislation that, if they come to fruition, would be beneficial to agriculture. There is funding directed at roads and bridges, many in rural areas. There is some funding for our inland waterways and ports. For an industry like soybeans, we rely on robust exports and we have got to have the multi-modal transportation system that can connect our supply with that demand. We think there are some very favorable things in this legislation.”

With Senate passage, attention now shifts to the House on this legislation.

“Very little proceeds on time in Washington, D.C., but it is moving forward. The big question is: does the House adhere to Speaker Pelosi’s stated desire that this bill only gets passed if that $3.5 trillion reconciliation package which involves much more social spending also gets passed? There is still a lot of uncertainty related to this. Clearly there are Democrats and Republicans who support this legislation and it is clearly a priority of the president. It is a big bill. Hopefully it won’t get polluted by some of these more controversial topics.”

If the infrastructure package does get passed, it will hopefully build on existing progress.

“This bill would amplify what is already happening. We have a 5-year Highway Bill that was passed in 2015 and is scheduled to be re-authorized this year,” Steenhoek said. “Last year we had the Water Resources Development Act that paved the way for more funding for the inland waterway system. This is not our only shot for moving the needle on infrastructure. Things are getting done. You could argue that more needs to be done and that is what this bill aspires to do.” 

Along with the big picture infrastructure items, there are also some smaller provisions in the legislation that could benefit agriculture, including support for biobased products.

“There is a provision that calls attention to biobased products that have infrastructure implications,” Steenhoek said.“Soy-based asphalt sealants and soy-based concrete sealants that are made largely from soil oil are a sustainable way to elongate the life of roads and bridges and provide another market opportunity for soybeans.”

There is plenty to watch as this continues to move forward.

“This is not a perfect piece of legislation, but we do think when you look at the links in the supply chain that are important to farmers, there are certain investment levels and actions that will improve the supply chain. Overall we look at this legislation favorably,” Steenhoek said. “I think there is a good chance that this does get passed, but as the days progress toward an election year, then the probability of anything getting passed goes down.” 

By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo

From the local bridge just around the corner to the locks and dams on the nation’s river system, agricultural viability depends heavily on infrastructure. After months of across-the-aisle negotiations, the Senate voted to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package (H.R. 3684) in August.

“This is a very notable move forward. It passed through the Senate with a very bi-partisan vote of 69-30, 19 Republican Senators voted for the legislation. Early on this year, the topic of infrastructure was really expansive. There were a lot of things being discussed that really don’t have a lot to do with what most Americans regard as infrastructure. It has tightened up and we think that is a good thing,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “We appreciate there are a number of categories within this legislation that, if they come to fruition, would be beneficial to agriculture. There is funding directed at roads and bridges, many in rural areas. There is some funding for our inland waterways and ports. For an industry like soybeans, we rely on robust exports and we have got to have the multi-modal transportation system that can connect our supply with that demand. We think there are some very favorable things in this legislation.”

With Senate passage, attention now shifts to the House on this legislation.

“Very little proceeds on time in Washington, D.C., but it is moving forward. The big question is: does the House adhere to Speaker Pelosi’s stated desire that this bill only gets passed if that $3.5 trillion reconciliation package which involves much more social spending also gets passed? There is still a lot of uncertainty related to this. Clearly there are Democrats and Republicans who support this legislation and it is clearly a priority of the president. It is a big bill. Hopefully it won’t get polluted by some of these more controversial topics.”

If the infrastructure package does get passed, it will hopefully build on existing progress.

“This bill would amplify what is already happening. We have a 5-year Highway Bill that was passed in 2015 and is scheduled to be re-authorized this year,” Steenhoek said. “Last year we had the Water Resources Development Act that paved the way for more funding for the inland waterway system. This is not our only shot for moving the needle on infrastructure. Things are getting done. You could argue that more needs to be done and that is what this bill aspires to do.” 

Along with the big picture infrastructure items, there are also some smaller provisions in the legislation that could benefit agriculture, including support for biobased products.

“There is a provision that calls attention to biobased products that have infrastructure implications,” Steenhoek said.“Soy-based asphalt sealants and soy-based concrete sealants that are made largely from soil oil are a sustainable way to elongate the life of roads and bridges and provide another market opportunity for soybeans.”

There is plenty to watch as this continues to move forward.

“This is not a perfect piece of legislation, but we do think when you look at the links in the supply chain that are important to farmers, there are certain investment levels and actions that will improve the supply chain. Overall we look at this legislation favorably,” Steenhoek said. “I think there is a good chance that this does get passed, but as the days progress toward an election year, then the probability of anything getting passed goes down.” 

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