Rieke: Railroads on political radar

HANSKA – Farmers Co-op of Hanska General Manager Randy Rieke said weather issues have a lot to do with railroad shipping delays costing Minnesota corn, soybean and wheat farmers nearly $100 million, but it isn’t the whole story.

He said railroads are on the political radar for timely delivery of fertilizer and corn. “Politicians are getting involved, putting railroads under a microscope so the Surface Transportation Board (STB) doesn’t get after them any more,” Rieke said.

The STB issued a demand this spring that the Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads improve fertilizer delivery service by requiring them to provide weekly reports for six weeks, starting April 25. Details included fertilizer delivery per state, number of cars shipped or received that are billed to agricultural destinations and the number of cars places at such locations.

“We can’t control the weather, but lately, all the problems with too much rain caused washed out tracks. We heard about it Tuesday at a meeting with the railroads and shippers,” Rieke said. “Add to that the Bakken thing (spike in oil shipments by rail from North Dakota). The BNSF has 147 shuttles they keep rotating on railroad track. There’s about 80 grain shuttles. It’s too much traffic trying to go through a funnel.”

Rieke said last winter it was the cold weather and large amounts of snow that slowed rail shipments. “When the temperature gets near zero, engine efficiency is cut in half,” Rieke said. “Now as the economy improves, lots of new business comes online fast, increasing inter-modal traffic.”

He said railroads are hoping to get caught up with grain shipping by the end of the calendar year, unless something else comes up, creating more delays, which has been the case recently.

Rieke said the up side of lower grain prices is that it allows livestock producers to make more money. “They’ve been feeding expensive corn and soybean meal for the last few years until now,” Rieke added.

“It’s about bushels per acre. If the trend line of 165 corn yield goes up to 170 or 171, it’s a lot more bushels,” Rieke said. “It’s the old saying, ‘rain makes grain.’ Sure we’ve got some drown outs around here, but some other places around the country are growing where they couldn’t before, so things can balance out.”

Rieke said cattle feed and hog numbers are down a little but ethanol shipments seem to keep moving along as they were.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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