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U.S. Infrastructure Reality Check

September 30, 2011
By: John Buckner, Farm Journal Executive Editor
semi truck road
In the most recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers, our nation's roads were given a D- grade.  

Facing our challenges to guarantee our competitive edge

It’s a word that doesn’t easily roll off the tongue—it’s concrete dry and chunky in the mouth. At four syllables, it sounds important and bureaucratic, a victim of overuse in too many Washington meetings. Yet, the word "infrastructure" is a loaded buzzword, full of expectation and implications for our country.

At 3.79 million square miles and an estimated 310 million people with a $14.780 trillion gross domestic product, we are a nation on the move. How quickly and effectively we can move to meet the needs of a growing world population is in question, however.

All of the players who transport ag products are going to have to make big changes if we want to be competitive in the world market.

field to port logo

Read more about our nation's infrastructure challenges.

"We have a huge modal shift going on," says Ken Eriksen, senior vice president of Informa Economics and expert witness in the areas of transportation, logistics and supply chains.

"From October to February, it’s going to be all about the soybean. We say our grain is going ‘East by Northwest,’" he jokes.

Eriksen rattles off a list of changes taking place in the ag logistics world that reflect private investment efforts. For example, EGAT LLC is constructing a new intermodal grain facility in Longview, Calif., and a series of high-speed shuttle train loader elevators is in the works in Montana.

He also scolds others like port authorities that might not be able to accommodate Super Post-Panamax marine vessels that will want to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion project when it is completed in 2014.

"We’re working on creating very efficient ways of getting to the ports and how we load ships, but if we want to double exports, we need to keep our shipping channels open to accommodate bigger vessels," he says.

Eriksen says that while demand might set prices, it’s the delivery that affects the local basis. "Farmers spend months every year raising and taking care of the pile of grain they produce, but don’t recognize the full value of grain until it’s transported," he adds. "Transportation inefficiency devalues grain and causes bottlenecks that back up all the way to the farm gate."

How it gets there and how long it takes to make the trip might prove to be a telling dry run for the grain shipping tsunami forecasted to arrive in the next 20 years. How does our infrastructure currently rate in terms of meeting the transportation demand?

The Report Card

The most recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009 shows the state of our infrastructure based on physical condition and necessary investments for improvement.

Bridges                   C

Dams                      D

Energy                    D+

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - October 2011

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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

Jerrold - Madera, CA
Additional concerns have been raised with the marked increase in transportation companies owned and operated by recent immigrants where English is a second language. Not being involved in transportation, but as a casual observer I see many foreign-born truck owners/operators here in Central California.​
4:34 PM Oct 3rd



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