Farmers Union Calls Ability to Deliver Grain Shipments by Rail at Harvest ‘Substantially Inadequate’

Repost from National Farmers Union
[Editor: This media alert does not name the massive expansion of crude by rail shipments in the upper Midwest as the cause for lack of rail cars for shipping farm commodities, but there is little doubt this is the problem.  – RS]

August 6, 2014
Contact: David Thews, 202-554-1600,
NFU Calls Ability to Deliver Grain Shipments by Rail at Harvest ‘Substantially Inadequate’
Warns Surface Transportation Board Farmers May Be Forced to Dump Grain

WASHINGTON (August 6, 2014) – National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson warned the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that BNSF Railway (BNSF) and Canadian Pacific (CP)’s ability to deliver grain and ethanol at harvest are “substantially inadequate” and are resulting in farmers piling grain on the ground because of lack of transportation options.

“We are especially concerned regarding wheat, since harvest has already started and grain remains in the bin from last year’s harvest,” noted Johnson in a letter today to the STB chairman and vice chairman.  “While BNSF claims that the total number of late shipments of wheat has declined nationwide, 95.42 percent of all past due cars are concentrated in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. BNSF has promised to improve their performance, but we are still subject to delays and Average Train Speed at year-long lows,” the letter notes.

“Grain shipments in North Dakota are critical,” said Johnson.   BNSF reported in its latest weekly update that there have been 2,399 delayed rail cars with an average delay of 23.6 days. CP reported 22,457 open requests with an average of 11.71 weeks.   The letter cites anecdotal evidence from four different grain elevators indicating that their oldest orders are from early March and shuttle orders are up to 2,000 cars behind. “These numbers are staggering and simply unacceptable,” he said.

Johnson notes that in South Dakota, NFU members are hearing about significant delays directly from local grain elevators across the state. At one particular elevator that handles 15 million bushels of grain per year, 3 million of those bushels will not move before this year’s harvest.  “Due to the backlog, farmers are now dumping wheat on the ground because the elevators will not take on the increased liability,” he said.

Johnson also voiced his concern about the ethanol industry, which relies heavily on rail for transportation.  “While the June 20 decision rightfully addressed grain shipments, we encourage STB to consider shipments of ethanol as a priority as well,” he said.  “Failure to bring ethanol to market will hurt consumers because of higher gasoline prices, and will work against our efforts to offset imports of foreign oil.”

A full copy of the letter is here.

National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.