Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America

February 01, 2017

“Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America”

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
United States House of Representatives

February 1, 2017

Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio and distinguished members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. 

My name is Dave MacLennan. I am the Chairman and CEO of Cargill. Cargill provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. Our purpose is to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

Our company is a great American success story. It was started in 1865 by William W. Cargill, with just one small grain warehouse in Conover, Iowa. That elevator almost went bankrupt a few years later, when the railroad stopped coming to Conover. However, Mr. Cargill knew that transportation drives growth in agriculture. So he followed the infrastructure, and today, we have 150,000 employees in 70 countries. 

Thank you for your past leadership on reauthorization of WRDA (“Werd-ah”) and passage of the FAST Act. I am encouraged by the interest of this committee in modernizing our nation’s infrastructure and eager to discuss the challenges facing our agricultural transportation system.

For much of our history, America’s infrastructure has been the envy of the entire world. It has allowed our country to become the economic powerhouse it is today. Certainly for agriculture, moving product for trade and export is crucial. But while many other countries are building the roads, ports and railways of the future, we are falling behind.

Infrastructure investments will allow American companies to compete effectively with their counterparts abroad and create long-term growth that will benefit all Americans.

Twenty-first century infrastructure includes shiny objects, such as electric cars, microgrids and high-speed rail. But as exciting as new technologies are, we should also think about our traditional assets. So my testimony will focus not on the shiny objects, but on the ones that tend to get rusty: the rails, roads, bridges and waterways of rural America.

Mr. Chairman, agriculture is the largest user of freight transportation in the United States, claiming 31 percent of all ton-miles according to the USDA. In our world of thin margins, when infrastructure fails, we all feel it.

At Cargill, we support multiple modes of transportation. What is most important to us is making sure our customers can get their goods from point A to point B in an efficient and sustainable manner.

This holiday season, Cargill delivered more than 20 million Honeysuckle White and Shady Brooks Farms turkeys to the dinner tables of American families. You probably didn’t think about how the turkey got to your table, or about the jobs in growing turkey, feed manufacturing, transportation and retail that are involved along the way. You didn’t need to worry about it because companies like Cargill are hard at work keeping our food system efficient and connected.

Unfortunately, our nation’s transportation infrastructure is under unprecedented strain.

  • Our inland waterways struggle because of aging locks and growing demand.
  • Our sea ports aren’t deep enough to accommodate newer, and larger ships.
  • Our railroads are experiencing capacity constraints.
  • And our bridges and roads are crumbling, receiving D ratings from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

If our ports fail, we can’t link Pacific Northwest grain farmers to the global market. If our locks and dams fail, we can’t move the road salt that we mine in Louisiana up the rivers to keep winter roads safe in Pittsburgh. If our bridges crumble, we can’t cost effectively truck fertilizer to family farmers in Platte City, Missouri. And if our railroads are over capacity, we can’t ensure enough ethanol makes it to New Jersey to be blended into gasoline for our cars.

We know what it looks like when one mode of transportation fails and the consequences ripple up the supply chain. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina shut down the Gulf ports, we lost the ability to transport grain on the nation’s waterways. Losing this efficient transportation capacity greatly impacted the price of corn paid to farmers, with US corn prices falling 30 cents per bushel. In 2005, the US corn crop was about 10 billion bushels, so this amounted to $3 billion in lost market value during this time.

In the Chairman’s home state of Pennsylvania, crumbling bridges near our beef plant in Wyalusing were recently bypassed for replacement. Reduced weight limits made them impassable for our carriers. In this rural town where we employ more than 1,700 workers, trucks moving beef to our customers are forced to re-route, adding an additional $1.5 million dollars in costs to the business to date.

Mr. Chairman, our ability to fix our infrastructure, compete in the global market and keep our economy growing will be influenced by the decisions of the people in this room. I urge you to invest in the food and agriculture sector by reinvesting in the state-of-the-art transportation system that we all know clearly got us here in the first place. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to share Cargill’s views with you today. I look forward to answering your questions.