Secretary Perdue emphasizes necessity of infrastructure to encourage rural growth
Washington, D.C. – On March 14, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to emphasize the importance of infrastructure developments to improve prosperity for rural America.
“Throughout his campaign and since he has been in office, the President has made investing in American infrastructure a priority – for our economic growth and for winning in global commerce,” Perdue said during the hearing. “If we’re going to ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone,’ we need better infrastructure to connect cash crops to markets, milk from dairy farms through the supply chain to grocery stores, timber to lumber mills, clean water to rural households, affordable electricity to factories, teachers to students and patients to doctors.”
Connection to prosperity
Improved infrastructure, according to Perdue, allows rural communities to add jobs and continue to grow.
“Infrastructure has been the core of American economic success for more than two centuries,” he said. “If we are to continue to grow, America’s infrastructure needs attention. Our nation’s productivity, prosperity and hope for future generations are at stake.”
Additionally, rural America provides the best grounds to continue to grow a variety of industries, from food, forests, fiber fuel and fisheries to manufacturing, he said.
“Rural areas are abundant in the natural resources we rely on for recreation and for production – the suppliers of minerals, fuels and natural resources that create and support every American job,” Perdue emphasized.
Importance of rural America
Perdue explained rural America makes up nearly three-quarters of the U.S. landmass and provides a home to 46 million American citizens.
“Rural America has a diverse store of assets to draw upon and is home to people of all ages and occupations,” he said. “Yet, overcoming the challenges and realizing the opportunities for prosperity in rural America requires action.”
“Success depends on expanding productivity in the rural economy and connecting rural people to each other, to urban areas and to the rest of the world,” Perdue continued.
He added, “Rural productivity, prosperity and quality of life are critical to this administration and USDA.”
Perdue also explained, since his first days in office, he has focused on bringing prosperity to rural America through chairing the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The task force provided insights Perdue says guide his daily decisions.
“I traveled extensively across the country, taking a hard look at the challenges and opportunities in rural communities and hearing from those in America’s heartland,” he noted. “At every stop, in every place, I heard from the users of our precious infrastructure. For these communities, prosperity means rebuilding and modernizing their infrastructure.”
Perdue also noted he observed first-hand communities that were unable to provide safe, reliable water sources, wastewater facilities, efficient electricity, broadband service and more, limiting their ability to flourish by attracting new businesses and retain employees.
For transportation, Perdue noted rural communities are hungry for road and rail upgrades, as well as improvement to ports to improve the speed of commerce on the global scale.
“Coast to coast, border to border, city to city and farm to market, rural transportation connects our country,” he said.
More than 3,700 airports, 3 million miles of roadways, 30,000 miles of interstate highway and 140,000 miles of the nation’s freight rail are found in rural America, and Perdue said, “Of the nation’s nearly 55,000 bridges that are in poor condition, 80 percent are in rural areas.”
Additionally, 25,000 miles of inland waterways transport commodities from rural areas, but “More than half of the locks and dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers are more than 50 years old and put at risk the ability to efficiently handle the more than 500 million tons of freight now traveling on our inland waterways,” Perdue said.
Water and power
Community water systems provide drinking water to rural Americans, and 85 percent of drinking water comes from small, rural water systems.
“Continued rural infrastructure investments for water, wastewater and solid water systems in small town America is crucial,” Perdue said. “The demand for water investment is great, with demand that exceeds the federal government’s ability to support.”
Rural water programs in USDA have a backlog of more than $3.1 billion in projects seeking financing, he added.
While water is a problem, over 40 percent of the electric distribution infrastructure in the U.S. is provided by rural electric service providers.
“Electric infrastructure, like all infrastructure, needs almost constant care, maintenance and modernization,” Perdue explained. “New challenges emerge everyday, and we need to protect the grid from engineered and natural disasters, cyber threats and aging facilities.”
Finally, investments need to be connected in a “smart grid” to prevent outages and speed the ability to respond to any problems.
“Atop the infrastructure priority list for rural American citizens, business and farms is the expansion of rural broadband for e-connectivity to the next ‘interstate highways system’ of global commerce,” Perdue said, emphasizing that e-connectivity is the key to productivity in the 21st century.
He continued, “It is fundamental for economic growth throughout the U.S., providing access to capital, expanding markets, training for Americans for the jobs of the 21st century economy, enabling innovation and ensuring quality of life.”
From precision agriculture technology, which leads to improved output and efficiency, to improved business opportunity, Perdue said, “Every rural community should have an ‘on ramp’ to the digital superhighway that carries 21st century commerce.”
As President Trump released his infrastructure priorities, Perdue noted the President also recognizes that improvements are necessary to ensure the whole of America prospers.
“The President believes in this vision for rural prosperity and sees infrastructure as a key ingredient,” Perdue said. “He knows rural infrastructure needs attention.”
Neglecting infrastructure leads to downtime for repairs, reduced capacity to generate goods and decreased ability for American businesses to compete and “win.”
“At USDA, our informal motto is ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone,’ while we also pursue the President’s goal of restoring the ‘Made in America’ label,” Perdue added. “Neither is possible without modern 21st century infrastructure connecting our rural communities to each other, to our nation’s metropolitan areas and to the world. I’d like to leave this committee today, with a new take on our motto, ‘Do Right and Connect Everyone.’”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.