The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) recently teamed up with author and infrastructure expert Dan McNichol to expose the economic harm that failing roads and bridges cause for Illinois communities. McNichol has embarked on a cross-country trip through January 2014 as part of Dire States, a national campaign to raise awareness about infrastructure problems, sponsored by CASE Construction Equipment.

“Transportation is the first step in connecting harvests with customers,” says Paul Rasmussen, soybean farmer from Genoa, Ill., and ISA transportation first vice-chair. “Without efficient and effective infrastructure, the entire supply chain is less profitable, including local economies and businesses.”

Farm and community representatives and media met with Rasmussen, McNichol and other infrastructure experts in DeKalb, Ill., to discuss the impact of failing roads and bridges in the state. To help put the national issue into perspective, participants then traveled to the Keslinger Road Bridge in nearby Afton Township for a first-hand look. The rural bridge was built in 1976 to span the Kishwaukee River, but collapsed in 2008. It has been closed since then.

“This is a critical conversation,” says McNichol. “Back in the day, a farmer might have gone out and rebuilt that bridge, but today there are regulations and restrictions that don’t allow that. So now we have to work in a more sophisticated, more complex way to rebuild our infrastructure.”

Local Focus on National Issue

ISA published research in 2012, related to the Keslinger Road bridge. According to the checkoff-funded study, area farmers must take a 16.7 mile detour to reach the closest grain handling facility, costing them extra time and fuel expense when transporting grain to market. The same study examined economic impacts of 11 other rural bridges closely linked to soybean production.

Rasmussen, a DeKalb County native, is the ISA district director. He says for a farmer with more than 300 corn acres and 200 soybean acres, the detour would cost about five cents per bushel.

The 2012 study also illustrated the impact of failing infrastructure on the local economy. Researchers projected restoring the bridge to accommodate local traffic would cost $369,000. Such an investment in local infrastructure would benefit the local economy more than $37 for every dollar invested in repairing the bridge. County officials have since estimated the cost to replace the Keslinger Road bridge at $933,000, according to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.

Rasmussen says the shared interests of ISA and Dire States to bring attention to improving infrastructure inefficiencies made the collaboration a natural fit.

He says, “We have a goal to utilize 600 million bushels of Illinois soybeans annually by 2020. If rural bridges are closed or posted for load limits, if county roads are crumbling, if locks and dams are not functioning at full capacity, what will happen when we need to move larger crops?”

Other stops on McNichol’s road trip include Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles and Miami.

“The messages of rural America and agriculture are just as important as the problems facing the urban population,” McNichol says. “We are carrying the story of the Keslinger Road bridge with us as we sit down with audiences off the farm.”