Investments in Agriculture, Rural America Needed in Infrastructure Bill

August 5, 2021

A 2,702-page bill laying out $1 trillion in infrastructure spending is under debate in the Senate this week, offering a multitude of benefits sought by U.S. farmers, ranchers and forestland owners. The bipartisan legislative proposal was reached after massive negotiations among senators and the White House that stretched through the weekend, bringing H.R. 3684 to the Senate floor. There, it already faces more than 300 amendments, leaving the bill’s final provisions in question when it is likely adopted this coming weekend.

Nonetheless, many in the agriculture and forestry sector see momentum behind provisions in the bill that would boost crop production and distribution. The bill sets aside $550 billion in new spending over the next 10 years, including $110 billion for roads and bridges, an outlay that can only improve access to markets.

The big infrastructure measure sets aside $8.3 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, including $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure, $1.15 billion for new water storage and conveyance, $100 million for small scale storage projects, $250 million for ecosystem restoration, $100 million for multi-benefit watershed projects, and $400 million for a Department of the Interior program that works cooperatively with states, tribes and local entities to improve water conservation.

Of critical importance in the bill are Western water infrastructure provisions as advocated by a coalition of more than 220 organizations, including Solutions from the Land, collectively representing thousands of farmers, ranchers, water providers, businesses and communities in 17 states. Spearheaded by the Family Farm Alliance, the coalition sent a letter to congressional leaders that was highlighted by this blog last month that  offered a substantial list of Western water needs.

The letter warned that changing hydrological conditions and an expanding population in the West raise serious concerns about the future viability of the nation’s water infrastructure. “To keep water flowing to farms, ranches, cities and the environment,” the coalition warned, “substantial federal investment is needed to bolster deteriorating storage and conveyance facilities and build new ones.”

Biofuels get little mention in the bill that came to the Senate floor. One reference is made in language on a study on manufacturing fuels. Another reference comes in provisions on zero-emission buses that cites the potential use of biofuels, as well as liquified natural gas, compressed natural gas, hydrogen and propane.

However, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar, D-MN) are reportedly working on provisions that would further boost biofuels and seek to add them to the infrastructure bill this week.

The measure sets aside $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid. The proposed outlay could result in the single largest federal investment in the grid in history and would aim to boost the transmission of renewable energy

In another effort to boost rural America, the bill sets aside $65 billion for rural broadband, an investment that would boost innovative, high-tech farming practices. Farmers and ranchers depend on broadband to implement the latest yield maximizing techniques, enabling growers to collect data and analyze outcomes. According to the USDA, nearly a third of U.S. farms have no access to the Internet.

While the bill omits a Clean Electricity Standard promoted by President Biden, it does provide more than $150 billion to boost clean energy and promote “climate resilience” by boosting the construction of schools, ports and other structures to better withstand volatile weather events like storms and wildfires.

The White House and other infrastructure advocates who are not getting out of the current legislation what they want are looking ahead to a second, $3.5-trillion, Democrat-only spending bill, which is expected to be offered later this year as part of a budget resolution. SfL calls on policy makers to fully address the infrastructure concerns – dwindling water reserves, worn and substandard roads and bridges, among others – raised by our farmers, ranchers and forestland owners. Investments in rural infrastructure will pay big dividends in the form of job and economic growth, improvements in climate, food and energy security and improvements in nutrition and public health. The agriculture sector is too important to our well-being, much less our economy, to cut corners.

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