WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2016 - Whether you are talking about roadways, broadband, rural hospitals or waterways, a diverse group of stakeholders are on the lookout for infrastructure enhancements that can keep American agriculture competitive and rural America more attractive for the next generation. That was at least one of the key messages from the first ever Rural Infrastructure Summit, hosted by Agri-Pulse in Ames, Iowa this week and sponsored by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.
Leif Magnusson, AEM chairman and president of CLAAS Global Sales Americas, says that in coming weeks, AEM will solicit “the best papers and presentations outlining new ways to transport agricultural commodities along U.S. systems, roads, highways and rail.” He says the competition will be much like the Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge, a contest AEM has been conducting this year, offering cash prizes for engineers, scientists and others to attract groundbreaking ideas for advancements in American infrastructure more broadly.
Magnusson pointed out that agriculture is the biggest user of cargo moving infrastructure, accounting for 31 percent of all U.S. freight ton miles, so equipment makers want to prompt long-range improvements in ag freight systems. The ag infrastructure contest will likely run into early 2017 before winning proposals are selected, he said.
Magnusson announced the contest at the opening of the Summit, where a range of experts linked to rural finance, electronic engineering, communications, transportation, agricultural production and more offered their ideas on the challenges ahead for rural infrastructure, advancements on the horizon and ideas for improvement. “We hope this is just the start of a continuing conversation” about meeting challenges to improve all modes of transportation and communications “to keep agriculture competitive and rural America very livable,” said Sara Wyant, Agri-Pulse editor and a co-sponsor of the event with AEM.
Speakers offered their outlooks, for example, on increasing operating autonomy for both machinery in the field and vehicles on the highways. Kevin Kimle, director of ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative, says motorized grain cars operating autonomously are on the way, and, in fact, some grain cars “will be operating without drivers” in some Iowa fields in this fall’s harvest.
Darryl Matthews, senior vice president of Trimble, in charge of agriculture, forestry and positioning services, says 80 percent of Iowa’s tractors of greater than 100 horsepower are already “steered by satellite (GPS systems).” But as autonomous control systems are perfected, he said, they will be accepted on highways, where vehicles will be driven both closer together and more safely. That means increasing the capacity of the roads for more vehicles, he said, and building roads with the latest technology and smart connectivity. “I suspect the cost of a road in the future is going to go up, but I suspect we will be building fewer of them and putting higher capacity on them,” he said.
Advances in another slice of U.S. manufacturing technology, 3-D printing, will improve the farm and rural businesses infrastructure, Mathews said, because the printers will build parts for farm machinery and equipment locally and quickly at low cost. Already, 3-D printers are making parts at rural locations, he says. “What they can do is download the specs on how to produce the part and the farmer or rural client comes and picks that part up.” That also reduces a need for delivery vehicles on highways. Plus, he says, “Amazon is testing delivery of orders by drone today.”
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