By Eric Bohl
Agriculture is a huge part of Missouri’s economy. In fact, a 2016 economic impact study found that Missouri agriculture, forestry and related industries account for over $88 billion in sales every year; nearly 15 percent of the state’s total. However, to maintain and grow this economic engine, our rural infrastructure needs to be built to support modern agriculture.
While $88 billion sounds large and impressive, many people struggle to grasp what those numbers mean in real terms and why they create such a need for infrastructure investment. The ag economy is geographically dispersed, so its activity often makes less of a mental impact than big manufacturing plants or downtown skyscrapers.
We can get a better understanding of the industry’s scope by looking at a modern row crop farm’s operations and its impact on our state’s infrastructure. Today, a typical Missouri corn farmer grows about 175 bushels of corn per acre, roughly double what was produced in the 1970s. Today many farmers now haul their grain with large semi trucks, each of which can carry about 5 acres’ worth per load.
Many larger Missouri grain farmers grow 2,500 acres or more of corn each year. To harvest this corn and take it to storage bins, a farmer has to make about 500 trips with fully-loaded semi trucks. They will then make an equivalent number of trips to deliver the corn to an elevator where it will be distributed to end users.
A thousand fully-loaded semi trucks coming in and out of a small town – that’s a big deal. Now visualize Missouri’s statewide corn haul: with 4.1 million acres of corn grown, the equivalent of over 1,500 farms of the size described above each produce 1,000 trips of these fully-loaded semi trucks per year; about 1.5 million trips annually, almost all on rural roads. And this only counts corn – Missouri is a huge producer of soybeans, rice, wheat, cotton and many other crops, each of which are consistently increasing yields year after year. Now add the Missouri livestock industry, which is about the same size as our row crop industry, and our large amount of forest products. Needless to say, agriculture is big and growing in Missouri, and our rural roads need to be built to support it.
In early February, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst shared the importance of rural roads with the Missouri Highway Commission. He encouraged the Commission to prioritize funding for rural freight corridors, or “farm-to-market” roads, that carry the bulk of farm products. Prioritizing spending can help rural roads and bridges keep up with technology and modern production.
Governor Parson, a lifelong farmer himself, seems to firmly grasp the need for rural infrastructure improvements. He recently proposed a plan to accelerate investment in bridge repairs and boost local input in identifying needs. This is a great start toward catching Missouri up to the needs of 21st century agriculture, and we will continue to support even more investment in our roads and bridges.