There is a lot of talk about the importance of affordable and high-quality broadband Internet access in rural America. While on the Greene County Commission Ag tour Sept. 25, 2019, one farm family shared about how the lack of broadband negatively impacts their farm.

One could say that broadband is the new “road” for agriculture and has the potential to change life on the farm nearly as much as electricity did in the early part of the 20th century.

The whole discussion of rural Internet access got me to thinking about something that pre-dates broadband and electricity: roads.

There was a day when the need for better quality roads to get farm products to market was widely discussed. We nearly take this for granted in Greene County.

The Greene County Highway Department is responsible for maintaining about 8,000 acres of right of way divided into two districts. Within this right of way lies about 2,500 lane miles of roadway, 217 bridges, and 672 box culverts. 

Greene County remains one of only three counties in the state where all of the rural farm roads are paved. It is a point of pride for county officials but also very important for rural businesses.

“I have to commend the county for how they maintain the roads,” said Dawn O’Connor, owner of Sac River Stables and s stop on the recent County Commission Ag Tour. “When the river floods and debris piles up along the bridge down here, the county gets on it. Even in the winter, even after a bad winter storm, we can normally get out on the roads in about one day.”

Highway Department employees perform many duties to keep the roads open and accessible to farmers who need to move their products to market. 

A search online provides numerous research studies highlighting the importance of quality roads for the farmer and lamenting the lack of those roads in Kenya, China, India and other places.

This connection between roads and agriculture is one reason why the Missouri Farm Bureau (MOFB) continues to voice its support for increasing investment in rural roads and bridges. 

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst recently spoke to the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission in support of increased funding for rural freight corridors, also known as “farm-to-market” roads and bridges. 

Hurst said, “Missouri agriculture is the economic engine of rural Missouri, generating over $88 billion in annual sales for our state. Today’s farmers haul heavy loads of grain, timber, cotton and other products on our rural roads and bridges. Our rural infrastructure needs to be built to support modern agriculture.”

By state ranking, Missouri is third in the nation in number of road miles, and 33rd in population. That’s a lot of road miles, and the cost per person is high.
There were also 186 Missouri traffic crashes involving farm equipment in 2018. In those crashes, seven people were killed and 66 were injured.

Farming continues to play a vital role in Missouri’s economy, history, and identity. Getting electricity to the farm a century ago improved farm production. Quality roads are vital to agriculture production. I believe we can say the same about rural access to broadband. It is no longer merely a “want” for today’s farmer; it is a need.