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Rural Innovation Summit - August 29, 2016
2016 is seeing renewed interest in all things rural. It’s an election year, with all the attention that brings to Iowa, South Carolina, and fly-over country. It’s a wet weather year in the Midwest, which appears to be a harbinger for large harvests…and low commodity prices. These in turn raise interest in revisiting rural infrastructure and the resource development that is needed for jobs in rural communities. At one front of this renewed interest is the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), with high interest in assuring roads and bridges are well maintained to support the ever-increasing size of farm equipment used to grow crops, as well as the river transportation system needed to move crop inputs and harvested commodities to market. AEM and Agri-Pulse brought together key influencers and thought leaders to discuss the state of infrastructure in rural America, and to consider what steps and strategies are needed to keep pace with an accelerating agriculture production system.
A big consideration is the choke points in transportation. Our river locks and dams are antiquated, and no longer keep up with the increased size of barge strings moving products up and down the rivers. Many highways and bridges require maintenance, that often has been deferred for years. Another issue is assuring rural business, healthcare and residents have access to the same technology that their city cousins enjoy. Whether it’s access to timely market data, or rural doctors communicating with subject experts at centers of excellence, rural communities rely heavily on improvements in broadband and fiber networks.
The other side of the coin is how to fund the necessary improvements to infrastructure. Many transportation improvements require Government funding with associated rules and regulations. Improvements to locks and dams may require huge capital investment…and will fight against other Government cash commitments. Rural leaders will have to think outside of the box to improve their influence at the Federal level and perhaps with new methods for fund development. New technology emerges for producers to use. From autonomous tractors to 3-D printing of parts, these systems require new expertise. New ideas emerging from Land Grant University Entrepreneurship programs have merit in creating new food production scenes that meet the urban restaurant desire for locally grown and specialty products. Such ground-breaking ideas may require capital in order to be realized. These resourcing needs may demand new thinking of both ag venture capitalists and technology venture capitalists.
Disruptive innovation is occurring in the Heartland. Sustainability is attracting students to agriculture. Robust infrastructure and resources are critical links to prosperous rural communities. Opportunity exists to lead by joining the thought leaders in the effort.