Rail board addresses fertilizer transportation concerns
As winter releases its hold on the Midwest, many involved in agriculture are finding the weather isn’t the only thing that an cause delays. The rail system, which has long been depended upon to move agricultural products, is proving inadequate to support both the ag industry and the booming oil industry. This spring, farmers are especially concerned about a potential shortage of fertilizer they’re predicting if railroads can’t be depended upon to deliver it. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has heard these concerns, and is requiring the major railroad lines to address the issue and provide plans and reports that make sure fertilizer is delivered on time for spring planting.
That decision reads, “Pursuant to a decision served on April 1, 2014, in United States Rail Service Issues, Docket No. EP 724, the Board held a public hearing on April 10, 2014, at its offices in Washington, D.C., to provide interested persons the opportunity to report on recent service problems in the United States rail network, to hear from rail industry executives on plans to address their service problems, and to discuss additional options to improve service. During the hearing, farmers and representatives of agriculture producers told the Board that without timely delivery of adequate amounts of fertilizer, they will not be able to commence spring planting for the 2014 crop.
Given the immediate need for fertilizer to meet rapidly approaching planting deadlines, and the potential long-lasting and widespread effects of missing those deadlines, the Board, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 721(b), will direct the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CP) and BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) to each report, by April 18, 2014, their plans to ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments for spring planting of U.S. crops. The Board will further direct CP and BNSF to each provide weekly status reports over the next six weeks, beginning April 25, 2014, regarding the delivery of fertilizer on their respective networks. As part of these status reports, CP and BNSF shall provide fertilizer delivery data, by state, indicating the number of cars, shipped or received, which are billed to agricultural destinations, and the number of cars placed during each prior week. CP and BNSF will also be directed to include actual performance versus trip plan data for fertilizer shipments. Technical questions regarding compliance with this order may be directed to the Board’s Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance.
This directive is intended to focus each carrier’s attention on these very time-sensitive deliveries while the carriers simultaneously work to address the extensive service and car supply issues for all commodities and to get those commodities moving on the rail network. The Board continues to closely monitor rail service metrics data for all movements and consider other efforts to address rail service issues. This decision is not intended to replace the existing channels of communication among the railroads, shippers, and the Board’s offices. This decision will not significantly affect either the quality of the human environment or the conservation of energy resources.”
While North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Agricultural Committee, applauded this decision, she remains concerned about the inadequate service to farmers, grain elevators, and agribusinesses in moving their products to market. If the service does not improve, Heitkamp wants STB to exercise its authority to make sure the quality of service in North Dakota improves for agricultural customers.
“Railroads, by law, have an obligation to meet the needs of their customers, and they have fallen far short of meeting the needs of North Dakota’s farmers and shippers,” said Heitkamp. “North Dakota farmers were upset when some in Congress delayed passage of a long-term Farm Bill. But farmers’ frustration today with the railroads and the inability to get their product to market has reached another level, and justifiably so. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from one of my farmers about this issue, and I will continue pushing for improvements until this gets straightened out.”
Last week, South Dakota secretary of agriculture Lucas Lentsch was in Washington, D.C. to convey South Dakota governor Dennis Duagaard’s concern for the backlog of rail shipments in South Dakota. “The STB’s recent order will help ensure South Dakota producers receive adequate supplies of fertilizer for spring planting. It is clear that engagement from farmers, shippers, Gov. Daugaard and our congressional delegation demonstrated the scope of this important issue to the STB,” Lensch said.