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Column: Infrastructure law connects rural SC to new opportunities

By Laurie Funderbury
State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in South Carolina

No matter where we live, each of us benefits from successful farmers and a strong rural economy. We all know that farms put food on our tables. Farmers, cattle ranchers, private land foresters and the communities they belong to and support also contribute to our well-being in ways you may not immediately think of – from improving tourism to increasing national security.

Across rural South Carolina, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make dramatic gains in safety, health, education, and the economy thanks to President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure act. Expanding our ability to export local agricultural products, repairing roads and bridges, and extending high-speed internet to residents of rural South Carolina are just some of the ways this historic investment of 1 $.2 trillion in America will benefit our rural communities and ultimately all of South Carolina.

Increasing the ability to export agricultural products is a valuable part of the infrastructure bill. Wood products, our state’s largest annual revenue-generating agribusiness, are already the number one volume export from the Port of Charleston. Other agricultural products, such as soybeans and poultry, are significant exports by volume from the Port of Charleston. With a deep water port in Charleston, we are in a unique position to meet the global demand for food and the need for humanitarian assistance, a need that could increase due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

To take advantage of export opportunities and provide the food and resources the United States and the world need, producers also need a transportation network of trains, trucks, and inland distribution centers. The bipartisan infrastructure act provides funding that will increase our ability to move South Carolina agricultural products across the country and around the world.

Adequate funding for road and bridge work has been a problem in South Carolina for decades. Although South Carolina is making progress, with the fourth largest state-maintained road network in the nation, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Good roads are an economic development concern, of course, because farm-to-market roads have always been important for getting produce to customers. But it’s not just a concern for farmers who ship their crop; potholes and dangerous bridges are also hazards for every school bus, car or truck that uses these roads.

South Carolina’s rural roads have been found to have the highest rate of rural road fatalities and significant deficiencies on rural roads and bridges by TRIP, a national nonprofit passenger safety research organization. transport. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act will provide much-needed funds to build roads and bridges that will make us all safer.

As the state executive director of the Farm Service Agency in South Carolina, I travel the state and talk to agricultural producers. In these meetings, the need for Internet access is always a hot topic. Lack of broadband connectivity has long been a challenge in rural areas, making it difficult to operate a business. During the pandemic, this digital divide was further highlighted as children living in rural areas of our state struggled to attend school online.

The infrastructure bill makes specific provisions to bring high-speed internet to homes and businesses in rural South Carolina — and to make it more affordable. What difference will it make for residents of rural communities to be able to stay connected to their jobs, to use the technology they need to run farms and businesses, and to have reliable access to telemedicine and learning at distance !

As a member of a farming family, I know that farming is hard work and fraught with risk, even in the best of times. It is also essential. As part of the United States Department of Agriculture, the FSA’s mission is to help agricultural producers grow their businesses by providing access to much-needed capital through our direct and guaranteed loan programs and to help them stay in business with coverage for non-insurable crops and disasters. aid in recovery.

The FSA is proud of its work in assisting farmers across the country. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure act makes investments that provide important opportunities for rural South Carolina, creating new paths to prosperity. When farmers and rural communities create opportunities for a better future, we are all better for it.

Laurie Funderburk is the state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in South Carolina. A resident of Kershaw County, she served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2004 to 2020.