Barges, railroads and trucks have so far moved a large portion of this year's huge corn and soybean crops to market without the backlogs and delays that plagued last year's harvest, transportation officials said on Wednesday.
"Performance to date has been very good," said Eric Jessup, a vice president at Informa Economics.
Jessup was one of the panelists on Wednesday's Farm Foundation Forum in Washington, D.C. that focused on grain transportation. Other panelists said trucks and barges also are running smoothly despite this year's bigger supplies.
Panelist John Miller from BNSF Railway said the railroad in October shipped a record amount of grain to Pacific Northwest ports and shipments in other areas are going well.
"We knew there was a big harvest coming," said Miller, group vice president for agriculture products at BNSF. "We have performed better than a year ago."
An indication of that improvement has been the sharp drop in rail car rates. Rates shot to $6,000 per car in the secondary rail market earlier this fall as shippers were worried about availability. Rates have since dropped to about $500, panelists said.
"It has been a pleasant surprise," Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said of the shipping network. "Feedback from the rail sector, overall, has been positive."
The Association of American Railroads said U.S. railroads, on average, moved 14.5% more grain cars in the week ended Nov. 1 than a year ago.
U.S. corn and soybean farmers are expected to harvest record crops this year and while a lot of that grain has been shipped much more needs to be moved. Last year's shipments were hurt in part by the harsh winter, which slowed train speeds and reduced train sizes.
While the weather remains a threat, since last year railroads have spent billions adding cars, crews and track to handle the greater demand from grain shippers, oil producers, container carriers, and others.