America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction
It’s no secret that our country’s infrastructure is in desperate need of investment after years of neglect. We’ve all groaned and said some choice words when hitting deep potholes or been late to an appointment due to road or bridge closures. As our network of roads and bridges have continued to crumble, the situation has degraded from an occasional personal inconvenience to a serious barrier to national economic growth and prosperity.
The infrastructure network we depend upon to move people and commercial goods has long outlived its designed lifespan and is operating on borrowed time. For agriculture, recent flooding in the Midwest highlights how vulnerable our network is, the extensive nature of disrepair and how quickly critical food supply chains can be severed. These disruptions are not just headaches for the fertilizer and farming industries; they can potentially lead to higher prices on everyday goods for all consumers.
Last week Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) demonstrated much needed leadership by introducing “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019,” legislation that would provide $287 billion over five years to maintain and repair our crumbling roads and bridges. The funding level authorized in the bill is a nearly 30 percent increase over current levels and will be a much-needed economic shot in the arm for all communities and local economies across the country.
Our country’s roads and bridges have always played a critical role in getting plant nutrients to farmers’ fields when they are needed. But with railroad rate increases, rail service challenges and stalled reform efforts due to oversight board vacancies, roadway infrastructure is more important now than ever. Unfortunately, the state of our road system is hurting our industry’s ability to deliver fertilizer to customers. Last year we had truck drivers waiting in line for up to 11 hours to pick up fertilizer due to bottlenecks and breakdowns in road networks. This year we saw heavy rains wash away deteriorating roads and bridges that should have long ago been repaired and upgraded to standards that keep our economy growing and our communities connected. The Senate proposal would provide $6 billion over five years to address the backlog of bridges in poor condition nationwide and alleviate and prevent future network delays.
The importance of the timeliness of fertilizer deliveries cannot be overstated. The safe and reliable delivery of fertilizer to ensure that nutrients can be applied at just the right time in the growing process is absolutely essential to both keeping crop yields high enough to sate global demand and protecting the environment. The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) has for years been tirelessly promoting 4R Nutrient Stewardship, a collection of best management practices which include using the Right fertilizer source, at the Right rate, at the Right time and in the Right place. The 4Rs have been identified by multiple conservation and environmental stakeholders as one of the most impactful pathways to keep fertilizer on fields where it belongs and out of waterways where it doesn’t. A key part of that formula is getting it there at the Right time and a reliable infrastructure network is necessary to make that happen.
In addition to providing needed investment in roads and bridges, the Senate legislation supports increased research for carbon capture and storage projects. Thanks to years of investment, nitrogen fertilizer production efficiency has essentially reached its technical efficiency limit due to the laws of chemistry. Carbon capture and recycling is and will continue to be a strategy to reduce emissions from the nitrogen fertilizer production process. In 2016, our industry captured 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing 1.7 million cars from the road for a year. Additional investments in research and development in this area will help continue to reduce emissions by making the technology more feasible, efficient and scalable for future use.
At the end of the day, the fertilizer industry relies heavily on the timely delivery of product to growers where and when they need it so they can grow the food, fuel and fiber to feed a growing world. Our country’s farmers are the best and most productive in the world and the United States is the globe’s top agricultural exporter. A robust and well-maintained infrastructure network to facilitate the movement of critical inputs is necessary to ensure that doesn’t change. “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act” will help ensure U.S. agriculture has a 21st century transportation network that allows it to thrive and grow in a competitive global marketplace.
Chris Jahn is president and CEO of The Fertilizer Institute