Feb 20, 2018  |  Today's News |  Locks and Dams |  Legislation & Regulation |  Farm Policy

An op-ed by US Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue concerning the recently proposed infrastructure plan by the Trump Administration. Originally published by Des Moines Register  

Throughout American history, we have been recognized as a global leader in many areas, but we are in distinct danger of squandering advantages we hold over other countries when it comes to our infrastructure system.

Once the envy of the world, our infrastructure is crumbling and inadequate, and our nation risks slipping behind in economic achievement.

Under President Trump’s “Building a Stronger America” infrastructure agenda, we can restore our position in the world and steer America back to prosperity, particularly in rural America. 

This month, two Iowans joined President Trump at the White House when he rolled out his proposal to reestablish America’s economic prowess with a new transformation – the rebuilding, expansion and modernization of our nation’s roads, rails, waterways and utilities. He committed $200 billion in new federal funding that will catalyze at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment nationwide, allowing state and local governments to make investment decisions based on what’s needed in their communities.

Importantly, President Trump committed $50 billion, or a quarter of all newly announced federal funding, solely to modernizing and repairing the vital infrastructure of rural America.

Iowa has strong leadership at the state level, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has helped prioritize infrastructure improvements.

In my nine months in office, I have traveled to 33 states, including Iowa, taking a hard look at the challenges and opportunities in rural communities and hearing from rural citizens. At every stop, I heard about the dire need to expand broadband access, rebuild aging roads and bridges, provide clean water, and supply affordable, reliable power. 

Specifically, I heard from people in agricultural communities who could use better transportation for moving American farmers and ranchers'  amazing bounty and enhancing access to their suppliers and customers, both domestically and internationally.  Only with reliable and efficient infrastructure can rural America’s bounty be brought to market at home and abroad.  

Here is the challenge: More than half of the locks and dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers are more than 60 years old; they are unable to handle the 565 million tons of freight, including agricultural products, now flowing on our inland waterways.  The resultant traffic congestion and repairs are causing twice as many hours of delay than in the year 2000.  Road and rail upgrades are also necessary to shorten trips by trucks and freight trains — as are improvements in inland and maritime ports to speed commodity shipments around the world.

The Department of Agriculture’s infrastructure interests also include financing rural utilities, which create jobs by connecting manufacturing and production sites to modern electric grids and water systems.  Communities unable to offer safe and reliable water, wastewater facilities, and efficient electricity cannot hope to grow businesses or attract new employers to their area.  I was encouraged by Iowa’s leaders, who recently found a bipartisan path toward improving Iowa’s water quality with new resources.  This is the type of innovation and leadership we need across the nation.

Expanding rural broadband to connect America’s rural areas to the “interstate highway system” of global commerce sits atop the infrastructure priority list.  To remain internationally competitive, American farms need reliable, real-time internet connectivity to oversee operations in the fields, manage finances, and respond to international market conditions.  Precision agriculture can facilitate tremendous cost savings and increases in yields, but these benefits can be realized only if every part of the farm is connected to the worldwide web.  Additionally, broadband infrastructure for high-speed internet access is key for rural communities to remain attractive places to live for young people who want to easily and affordably stay connected with their smartphones and tablets.

Again, Iowa is leading the way, as Gov. Reynolds recently tasked Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg to lead the Rural Iowa Initiative. He participated in the White House Conference on Rural Prosperity last month and we eagerly await reports on that work to improve Iowa’s rural economy.

The benefits of the president’s proposal are even more exciting.  Aside from improving the quality of life for the people who live in non-urban parts of our country, President Trump’s American infrastructure initiative will create jobs for Americans. Such investment will increase our gross domestic product and boost the economy for all, including rural Americans.

At USDA, our informal motto is “Do right and feed everyone,” but we also fully endorse the president’s goal of restoring the “Made in America” label to the products we purchase and use.  Neither is possible without modern 21st-century infrastructure connecting our rural communities to each other, to our nation’s metropolitan areas, and to the world.  

Sonny Perdue is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Photo Credit: Michael Zamora/The Register