Continued economic expansion coupled with a growing population has stressed Texas highway infrastructure, creating a set of challenges for agricultural production transportation throughout the Lone Star State, experts said at the recent Texas Ag Forum in Austin.
This year’s forum took an in-depth look at the Challenges and Opportunities for the Texas Agricultural Transportation Infrastructure. The forum, a stakeholder-driven program in partnership with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, helps educate the public on key issues affecting Texas agriculture.
“If you look at agriculture today, you’ve got to have a plan for the future, and transportation is such a critical component of that,” said Dr. Doug Steele, AgriLife Extension director, College Station.
From the county level to major interstates in Texas, improvements and new roadways are necessary to transport major agricultural commodities. Commodity experts voiced their concerns, understanding many counties are working with lean road and maintenance budgets.
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“We’ve got a real bottleneck in our world from the field to the marketplace,” said Wayne Cleveland, executive director of the Texas Sorghum Producers, Salado, during a commodity stakeholder panel. “Our county road system is broken. When’s the last time you saw a new county road built? Even basic repairs are hard to come by.”
Rail transit is also under scrutiny due to border security issues because rail cars hauling grain and other commodities face the danger of getting hijacked, Cleveland said.
“It’s causing a diversion in markets based on fear,” he said.
Many commodity representatives at the meeting support an increasing in federal gross weight limits to 91,000 pounds and using six-axle trailers. Leaders said this would allow for increased amounts of field-harvested commodities such as sorghum, as well as beef cattle, to be transported in a more timely, efficient manner.
“We need that extra axle,” Cleveland said.
Josh Winegarner, director of government relations with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association in Amarillo, said some competing cattle feeding states have changed weight limits.
“That allows them to haul more cattle and puts us as at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “If we could add another axle, it would distribute weight more evenly with fewer trucks on the road.”
TRUCK TRAFFIC INCREASING
Luis Ribera, AgriLife Extension economist in College Station and director of the Center for North American Studies, said major truck traffic continues to increase throughout Interstate 35. More specifically, truck traffic has more than tripled in recent years with more than 3.8 million trucks crossing into Mexico.
“That’s more than 1.5 million crossings in Laredo alone,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons to use Interstate 35 because it’s a truck company’s best option to move product.”
With potential trade expansion with Cuba and other exporting countries, port activity in Texas will inevitably increase, Ribera said.
“As a result, you are going to see more and more truck traffic on other Texas interstates like I-45 and I-10.”
“We are victims of our own success,” said Steven Polunsky, research scientist with the Policy Research Center, part of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in College Station. “People are coming to Texas, they want to live here, they are buying vehicles and they are buying lots of food. It takes a lot of trucks to transport that food and it’s very hard to keep up with demand.”
The Texas Ag Forum is an association of agricultural leaders with representatives from across the Texas food and fiber industries. It was founded more than 20 years ago to provide a forum for open and public discussion of challenges and emerging issues in agriculture.