The COVID-19 outbreak is putting the squeeze on all sectors of the American economy, including agriculture. The outbreak will come to an end eventually, after which the country will need to take steps to get back on track. Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says updating the nation’s infrastructure would be one way to put agriculture and the overall economy on the right track

In Wednesday’s Newsmaker, we heard from the Soy Transportation Coalition’s Mike Steenhook about the importance of infrastructure updates. Click below to hear the entire Newsmaker.

Infrastructure investment, whether it’s for agriculture or the broader economy, is one of the most effective ways of stimulating our economy. You have the production of products, and you have the consumption of products. In between those two, you have transportation, and that’s a cost barrier between supply and demand, and if we have a dilapidated, poorly maintained infrastructure, that becomes an obstacle for profitability. Yet, if we have a well-maintained, well-capitalized, multi-modal transportation system, it is a facilitator of profitability.”

He says improving infrastructure is one way to improve the profitability of every sector in the American economy. Inadequate infrastructure will only make doing business in America more expensive, especially in rural areas.

“It’s been estimated that we have 47,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States; the overwhelming majority of those are located in rural areas. It’s easy to just dismiss and minimize the consequences of having a bridge that’s closed or having a load restriction on it, but the reality is that will result in a detour that could be five, ten, or even greater miles, and every mile of that detour results in an added expense.”

Adequate infrastructure helps food take that first step from the field to American dining rooms across the country.

“Rural bridges would be an excellent place to really provide a benefit to agriculture. It helps to facilitate that first journey from the farm to the elevator, and if you don’t have an effective system of rural roads and bridges, it frankly doesn’t matter the condition of your freight rail system or your inland waterway system, or your ports, that initial delivery won’t have occurred efficiently, so it’s really critical to have a functioning system of rural roads and bridges.”

Congress was scheduled to take up the Water Resources Development Act before the coronavirus hit the U.S.

 Steenhoek says the nation’s waterways need serious infrastructure help to get them running more efficiently again.

“When it comes to our inland waterway system and all of these locks and dams that are strategically located along that system that ensures a navigation channel for barge transportation, many of these locks and dams have been allowed to degrade. They are quite antiquated; there is a pretty significant need for major rehabilitation, and in many cases, a replacement of some of these locks and dams, and so much of our soybeans and corn and fertilizer, and a broad array of products that really allow the U.S. economy to function, are transported on the inland waterway system.

Congress was scheduled to take up the Water Resources Development Act before the coronavirus hit the U.S. Steenhoek says he’s hoping that will still be able to happen yet this year. That legislation will set a strategy for investing in and improving America’s inland waterway system.