Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., on Monday began a two-day conference with USDA and U.S. Surface Transportation Board members in North Dakota to discuss options for improving the transportation of agriculture products, particularly in the Northern Plains.
The conference examined the transportation challenges and issues that farmers have been facing, particularly in the past year and as this fall's harvest comes to a close.
Heitkamp moderated a panel discussion on transporting agriculture with Chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board Daniel Elliott and USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Edward Avalos, examining what can be done to address agriculture shipment delays.
Also participating in the conference was Dr. Won W. Koo, Director of North Dakota State University's Center for Agricultural Policy and Trade Studies. Officials from BNSF and Canadian Pacific railways also attended the meeting.
"Agriculture shipment delays have had crippling effects on some of the hardest-working folks in our country but it really speaks to the larger issue of a transportation system that has failed to live up to expectations," Heitkamp said in a released statement.
Heitkamp said the conference allows officials, producers, elevators, and the agriculture industry to review challenges and improve methods to avoid similar issues in the future.
Hoeven noted that the growth of industry in the Northern Plains has outpaced the growth of rail systems.
"The real solution for agricultural rail shipping will be a sustained capital investment by BNSF and CP to add more rail capacity, as well as more locomotives, rail cars and crew to move people and products," Hoeven said. "In other words, we need to build a more modern, more responsive rail transportation industry in North Dakota and across the Upper Midwest to meet our growing needs."
Farmers, elevators, and processors have all had a difficult time in getting products to market in a timely fashion, hurting their bottom lines and impacting their business and livelihoods, Heitkamp and Hoeven said.
While railroads have been working to make needed investments in the rail infrastructure to handle more shipments, the Senators, along with farm groups and agriculture industry representatives, have pressed for additional STB oversight on railways.
In October, the STB said it would begin collecting more information from all railways to allow for better understanding of the magnitude and impact of current service issues.
According to the latest USDA Grain Transportation Report dated Dec. 4, U.S. railroads originated 22,724 carloads of grain during the week ending Nov. 22, down 3% from the previous week, up 1% from 2013, and 6% higher than the 3-year average.