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What rural America stands to gain from the infrastructure bill

infrastructure bill
Posted at 12:26 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-08 14:39:01-05

CHOUTEAU, Ok. — It would be easy out here on these empty Oklahoma roads to assume it is always this quiet, but for as peaceful as the countryside is, Charlie Coblentz knows just how loud his life on the farm can get.

This 42-year-old, third-generation dairy farmer has called Chouteau, Oklahoma home for his entire life. His family farms thousands of acres of land here and has hundreds of heads of cattle.

"Food production is one of the most noble things you can do in the world is to produce food for others," Coblentz said looking out over his farm.

But like the hills that define the landscape, 2021 has had its share of ups and downs. Crop prices for the soybeans he grows are incredibly high, which is great for profit margins. But the price of everything Coblentz needs to run his farm, from fertilizer to feed, has also gone up.

"The prices have gone insane. Everything is over twice as much as it was last year at this time," he said.

It’s part of the reason why Coblentz and other farmers across the country are keeping a close eye on Washington right now. Parts of the infrastructure bill being debated in Congress could make a big difference for rural communities, from improving many of the roads farmers use to move crops to consumers to expanding high-speed broadband—something that Coblentz now needs just to run the software on his tractors and trucks.

"There’s internet within two miles of me here it’s almost here," he noted.

Out here surrounded by land though, many farmers’ biggest concern when it comes to the infrastructure bill has to do with water.

The nearby Port of Catoosa moves 400 tons of cargo each hour. Farmers rely heavily on it to export everything they produce. The problem is this part of the Arkansas River the port uses has been in desperate need of dredging for decades.

"They’ve been talking about this for years now and it’s not getting taken care of," Coblentz said.

With silt levels incredibly high on the river barges have to be lighter in order to float through. That means more ships, moving fewer goods, and less money for Charlie Coblentz.

"If we’re not efficient, we’re going broke. We can barely make a living as it is. We have to take care of everything we’re provided," he said.

The infrastructure bill has $17 billion allocated to improve waterways, some of which could flow directly into the Port of Catoosa for maintenance needs.

Rodd Moesel is with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He's hopeful that the $550 billion tagged for road improvements could directly impact small towns across the state.

"When they’re not working it’s a huge issue in getting our crops to market and making America work," he noted.

Given the current stalemate over the infrastructure bill, Charlie Coblentz isn’t exactly hopeful it’ll get passed. But like the cows he spends his life caring for, he just wants to see things moving in the right direction.

"I have to be as efficient as I can to make a living, and I have no faith in Washington D.C. to be efficient with our tax dollars," Coblentz said.