Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 02/02/2012

Rural Transportation

Andrew Walmsley is American Farm Bureau Federation’s transportation specialist.  He spends a great deal of time considering what improvements can be made to America’s infrastructure and transportation systems that not only benefit agriculture and rural America, but the country as a whole.

Rural America suffers from deteriorating infrastructure.  Materials need to be able to move from coast to coast, and people need to be able to get safely from here to there.  I am glad that Andrew is keeping us updated on the critical issues and possible solutions.

 Transportation Critical to Rural America

By Andrew Walmsley,

 From the beginning, agriculture was pretty much responsible for the development of our economy.  One of my favorite quotes was a note written from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington:  “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.”

 Transportation is the facilitator for most of this development.  Effective transportation allows access to new markets, increases consumer choice, reduces the costs of inputs and hopefully raises the revenue a farmer receives.  A healthy agriculture economy supports rural communities, and agriculture needs an effective transportation system.

 When farmers are forced to pay more for inputs or if their costs are increased to get product to market, American agriculture and rural communities are put at a disadvantage.  In 2007, nearly a third of all ton-miles transported in the United States were credited to agriculture, making it the largest user of freight transportation. 

American agriculture depends on four major modes of transportation:  trucking, railroads, barges, and ships.  And a joint study by USDA and DOT in 2010 looked at the issues affecting rural transportation policy.  Without surprise, one of the findings from the study found the need for agricultural transportation will continue to increase based on projected growth for U.S. grown agricultural products not only in the U.S. but around the world.

 One tidbit that was interesting from the report was that manufacturing employs 15 percent of the rural workforce.  And as share of total employment, manufacturing is 42 percent more important to rural American than to urban America.  Just like agriculture, many of the same transportation needs are required for a vibrant manufacturing economy.

 Some of the major issues identified by the study included:

  • Infrastructure
  • Increases in compliance costs
  • Availability of equipment
  • Exemptions for agriculture
  • Carrier antitrust exemptions
  • Railroad practices that reduce competition
  • The modal focus of transportation policy and funding

 If America is to stay competitive globally, create jobs domestically, continue to feed a growing world population, encourage manufacturing at home, and strengthen rural communities, we cannot lose focus on the importance of transportation and infrastructure.   

Composition of rural America. Source BEA 2006

“The stereotype of the rural economy focuses on agriculture but, in reality, the picture is more complex. As shown in Figure 3-4, agriculture is far from the largest employer in rural America. Four other economic sectors—services, government, retail and wholesale trade, and manufacturing—comprise 80 percent of rural employment. Agriculture is responsible for less than one in ten rural jobs. However, because agriculture is so capital intensive, the economic activity generated by it is greater than the job opportunities it creates. The interaction of agriculture and the off-farm jobs it supports provides a solid base for many rural communities. A solid transportation system is a critical foundation for success in all the economic sectors of rural America.” (page 117)

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  1. Andrew, I like your post. And I believe you bring up excellent points. I believe the solutions lie much deeper however. Rural America has generational issues.

    We can not expect agriculture to be main source of income. The advent of the mega-farmer has essentially killed any empower opportunities for the young. There just isn’t the jobs. If not agriculture … then what though. The salvation of our rural communities lie with the young – not the ones on social security. And many of these “old timers” don’t want change, and don’t embrace the newer generations. I’ve lived in North Dakota and currently live in Montana, but I’ve also lived in Los Angeles.

    In September I went back to North Dakota and saw the affects, good and bad, the Bakken oil boom has had on the area. Yes there’s money flowing in … the area can’t deal with the spillover effects. The roads are trashed, stoplight waits can be 30 minutes. It’s too much to ask the community to be able to handle this … and they’re not. But there are people that can navigate the challenges. But they’re not in Williston, North Dakota.

    Williston is not a lot different than most rural communities. Newcomers are not always being thrown the welcome mat … just the contrary. You can’t just sit and complain if your post office is shutting down. Maybe if you embraced the young people who will plant roots and start businesses and really try to make your town their home – good things will happen, things that would take the place of the post office.

    Whatever plight rural American has right now sure doesn’t have to do with the 28 year old family who’s trying to buy a house down the street. In actuality the fault is more … you than them.

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