Closures at meatpacking plants due to outbreaks of Covid-19 have sent shockwaves through the livestock industry. With thousands of confirmed cases among plant workers and operations stuttering across the country, the backlog of animals awaiting slaughter is growing and farmers are running out of options. The bottleneck promises to have long-term consequences for American ranchers and is injecting new urgency into calls for relaxing federal regulations that limit small farmers’ access to livestock processing.(No paywall)
With five cabinet members on hand to testify, Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune said a vast overhaul of U.S. infrastructure should be a legislative cakewalk. “Both sides can come together on this,” he said. “And it can happen this year.”
Some 46 million people live in rural America, scattered across 72 percent of the U.S. landmass, and conditions in many rural communities “are incredibly challenging,” said Anne Hazlett, recently installed as head of the USDA’s rural economic development programs. During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Hazlett agreed that “resources will be needed” for rural growth but deflected questions about whether more federal dollars should go into the programs.
The think tank Bipartisan Policy Center says public–private partnerships are a viable way for rural communities to pursue infrastructure projects but that this approach may require strategies such as bundling projects into a package that is attractive to investors. “While robust public funding is essential to meeting these urgent needs, rural areas, like their urban counterparts, should be empowered to tap into the financial and technical expertise of the private sector to help deliver infrastructure projects more quickly and at less cost,” says the center.
Most Americans take access to fast internet connections for granted, but in rural America, nearly four of every 10 people cannot get broadband, a disadvantage when commerce and public services are often routed digitally.
U.S. river traffic, key to farm exports, relies "on a dilapidated system of locks and dams that is more than half a century old" and needs a 21st-century update, said President Trump in pushing for a massive public works program. By coincidence, Trump spoke in the same city — Cincinnati — and used the same backdrop — barges on the Ohio River — that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue did a month ago when he announced a reorganization of USDA.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers, whose members make construction equipment as well as farm machinery, is running a pair of broadcast ads in swing states to promote infrastructure spending, each slanted toward a Trump or Clinton audience, says AgWeb. An AEM spokesman says it is a "unique way to approach our messaging to external audiences."
The first round of funding for rural infrastructure projects was released by the year-old U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund that mixes public and private capital, said the USDA.
Fifteen projects to improve more than 1,844 miles of transmission and distribution lines in rural America will receive a total of $349 million in low-cost federal loans.