In cooperation, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Transportation jointly produced a massive 607-page Study of Rural Transportation Issues, issued at the end of April.
The study offers a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the transportation infrastructure, in particular in its effects upon rural communities and agriculture. Trucking, railroads, barges and ocean vessels are all assessed in the light of their respective abilities to meet rural America’s transportation needs at present and in the future.
As the authors of the study write, “transportation is critical to U.S. agriculture, which raises the food for America and feeds a hungry world with its abundance. Our transportation system moves food from farms to our tables, and to ports for export to foreign markets. The four major modes work together in a seamless network, cooperating and competing with one another in a balanced and flexible system that delivers products efficiently and economically in an ever-changing market.
“Agriculture is the largest user of freight transportation in the United States, claiming 31 percent of all ton-miles transported in the United States in 2007. Much of this freight travels out of the country. Global agricultural supply and demand have changed rapidly since 1990. Corn and soybeans have increased dramatically in both consumption and production. During the past 5 years, half of American wheat was exported, along with 36 percent of the soybean crop and 19 percent of the corn crop. These exports travel from the inland areas of the United States where they are produced to borders and ports by way of a network of trucks, trains, and barges.
“The need for agricultural transportation will continue to increase, based on projected growth in the demand for U.S. agricultural products domestically and overseas.”
Even a brief perusal of the study’s executive summary and a glance at this quick précis and table of contents may prove quite elucidating. But the study as a whole is certainly rewarding, with extensive maps and charts illustrating the complexities of agricultural transportation. Here are three examples selected from the numerous revealing illustrations, the first concerning grain movements, the second elevator storage capacity, and the third wheat production and consumption: