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At Indiana Farm Bureau, we are dedicated to our mission of proactively advocating for agricultural and rural needs. Recently, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced his infrastructure agenda for 2019 that very clearly addresses the infrastructure needs of farmers and their rural communities.

As the president of the state’s largest general farm organization, I believe the Next Level Connections program announcement restated Gov. Holcomb’s commitment to rural Indiana and emphasized the value of agriculture to our state.

The plan includes a $1 billion investment for infrastructure projects. There are several provisions of the plan that will positively impact Hoosier farmers and rural residents. Those projects include funding to repair and maintain highways and significant funding for broadband expansion. Also included are steps to complete an analysis of the construction of a fourth port in the state near Lawrenceburg.

The governor’s Next Level Connections plan commits $100 million to bring broadband internet access to unserved and underserved areas of Indiana. Expanding broadband internet access to rural communities has been a priority for Indiana Farm Bureau for several years. Our members, more than 70,000 farm families across the state, have been clearly expressing the need for broadband internet access during legislator farm visits and at the Statehouse.

The need for high-speed internet is growing everyday no matter where you live. Rural areas and farming operations are no different. New technology which requires broadband access is making farming more sustainable and efficient. This investment for high-speed internet in underserved and unserved areas is a needed step that will help put rural Indiana on a level playing field with more populated areas.

The success of rural communities depends on viable small businesses, educational opportunities, advanced health care and overall improvement of quality of life. Access to broadband will provide opportunities in all of those areas.

A fourth port would provide new economic development opportunities, especially for those living in the southeast quadrant of the state. Trade is vital to agriculture and to Indiana’s economy in general. Currently, Indiana’s farmers are facing trade uncertainty at the national level and a global commodity surplus. Any advantage Hoosier farmers can gain in the trade realm should be pursued.

The investments in the Next Level Connections plan are ambitious. With any plan, there are impacts to consider. We have heard concerns from our members that increased tolls will move traffic to state highways. The plan invests in near-by highways with that in mind.

The proposed support for hiking, biking and riding trails has raised questions about how long-standing issues of trail acquisition, maintenance and trespassing will be addressed. As a grassroots membership organization, we know it is necessary to thoughtfully engage in the discussion about how the programs are implemented moving forward. We look forward to that discussion.

I appreciate that Gov. Holcomb has listened to the needs of our members and included Indiana Farm Bureau in the release of the Next Level Connection program details. Gov. Holcomb and his team have worked diligently and thoughtfully on this plan. We are eager to see the remaining pieces of the governor’s agenda for 2019 and excited to play our part in bringing rural Indiana to the next level.

Randy Kron is president of the Indiana Farm Bureau. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.