The coalition Farmers for Free Trade has spearheaded a letter to congressional leaders calling on them to complete an infrastructure package and boost projected spending for rural areas.
The letter signed by 32 groups and businesses tells lawmakers that an infrastructure bill should "include much-needed investments in our dams, locks, inland waterways and ports, as well as rural highway and roads, bridges, rail and broadband infrastructure."
With the American Jobs Plan calling for $17 billion for ports and inland waterways, Farmers for Free Trade and agricultural groups called on lawmakers to boost that funding closer to the $42 billion identified by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The letter comes as President Joe Biden is still looking for a path forward to get his bill through Congress after talks with a few key Republican senators ended this week. Jen Psaki, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said the president sees "multiple paths forward" on getting a bill.
Talks have broken down over both the size of the package, and how to pay for it. Biden continues to seek a 15% minimum corporate tax rate and increasing the capital-gains rate, including doubling the rate for individuals earning more than $1 million.
The Farmers for Free Trade letter highlights agricultural export value, which topped $136 billion in FY 2020, and the importance of infrastructure to the supply chain. The letter notes, "Agricultural products are the singled largest user of freight services in the U.S., making up 24% of freight services across all modes of tonnage with $3.1 trillion worth of agricultural products moved across all transportation methods in 2018."
Boosting infrastructure provides a chance to deliver transportation improvements that directly impact the bottom line of agricultural producers and food companies, the letter states.
Pointing to some deficiencies, the coalition points out that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives American infrastructure a report card of C minus. For agriculture, most locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois River are way beyond their 50-year lifespan. Modern equipment also is larger, putting more of a strain on rural highways and bridges that are designed for smaller vehicles. And ports are now seeing significant surges and backups that have hampered the ability to get agricultural products exported.
The agricultural groups also highlight competition with China and Brazil in making infrastructure upgrades. The costs for shipping agricultural products out of Brazilian ports is now parallel to U.S. costs. Brazilian infrastructure upgrades are at least part of the reason why Brazil has overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest soybean exporter.
The letter also calls for increased expansion of rural broadband.
The full letter can be found at https://farmersforfreetrade.com/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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