Opinion: Moran and Marshall failed farmers
Kansas stands to benefit substantially when the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act becomes law. The White House projects over $3 billion will come to Kansas through the improvement of roads, bridges, electric vehicle charging stations and the expansion of high-speed internet.
Much of this infrastructure spending is critical to Kansas agriculture.
Now is a once-in-a-generation chance to throw a life preserver to our farmers and ranchers, yet Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall both voted “no” on this legislation.
Our farmers and ranchers should be outraged. For decades, our agricultural industry has suffered from a systemic lack of federal infrastructure investment, and when a bill finally garners bipartisan support, neither of Kansas’ senators voted for it.
The bill contains $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail improvements, and $17 billion for port infrastructure.
These allocations provide funding to fix transportation routes critical to the delivery of agricultural products grown in Kansas. Our farmers and ranchers rely on the nation’s roads, railways and waterways to transport their goods to market.
The allocation for port infrastructure is especially beneficial as waterways provide a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly way to move and export farm produce. The Mississippi River plays a major role in transporting grain commodities — and Kansas is one of the country’s top producers of grain crops. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shipping delays caused by outdated locks along the Mississippi cost an average of $44 million annually. This bill provides much needed improvements to the inland waterway system that directly benefits Kansas farmers.
Additionally, extreme weather events like droughts, wildfires, flooding and erosion deteriorate much of the aging infrastructure critical to transportation of Kansas’ agricultural goods.
Droughts and flooding affect waterways, and there are few alternate cost-efficient pathways for grain transport in the United States. This reduces the ability of our farmers to export their grains to international markets. This legislation provides tens of billions of dollars to fight these extreme weather events and a further $150 billion for clean energy and climate change protections.
Mitigating extreme weather events is crucial to Kansas agriculture. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration projects changes in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods pose major challenges for our state’s farmers and ranchers.
These events can affect crop yields and directly threaten livestock, making it more difficult to grow crops and raise animals in the same ways and same places as we have done in the past. Research conducted by Harvard University indicates that unless immediate mitigation steps are taken, major droughts are expected to affect 60% of wheat-growing areas around the world — including Kansas. Our state was the country’s largest wheat producer in 2019 and second largest in 2020 — Kansas grows approximately 18% of all U.S. wheat.
Furthermore, the International Food Policy Research Institute projects that by 2050, the effects of extreme weather changes will result in a crop yield loss of greater than 5% in our state. This legislation has the potential to slow these alarming projections and provide long-term stability for Kansas’ farmers.
To put it briefly, this legislation is a big deal for our state’s agriculture. Instead of voting for it, and throwing a critical lifeline to Kansas agriculture, Sens. Moran and Marshall chose ideological virtue signaling over Kansas’ future.
• Alexandra Middlewood is an assistant professor of political science at Wichita State University.