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Rail shipment delays affect elevators

By Staff | Apr 10, 2014

The grain industry is facing a major problem: a huge backlog of grain that it hasn’t been able to ship by train.

Due to weather delays, crop harvests overlapped late last year. According to an article in the Bismarck Tribune, USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service estimated over 192 million bushels of corn, over 155 million bushels of wheat and over 28 million bushels of soybeans were in storage in North Dakota as of last month.

With more crude oil and coal shipped by rail, combined with a harsh winter, travel times have increased. Businesses and farmers that ship via Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian Pacific have noticed delays and backlogs, from which they’ve started to feel the sting.

BNSF had over 16,000 railcars that were past due, and on average were about 23 days late, according to a report released in late March.

Delays are affecting grain elevators in the Rugby area.

Roger Krueger, general manager, Farmers Grain Co-op Elevator in Cando, said that while the Canadian Pacific Railway delays haven’t affected the elevator there much, the BNSF delays have.

“We’ve had corn waiting to ship,” Krueger said. “Until it gets loaded, the liability is on us.”

Tim McKay, general manager, Farmers Union Elevator in Rugby, said that BNSF cars normally shipping barley, corn and wheat in a timely fashion are eight weeks behind.

BNSF has looked into adding more crews and locomotives to address delays. In a statement, the railroad said it would make progress toward a return to normal service by June, barring issues with inclement weather.

But McKay thinks the delays may be here for quite a while.

“It’s hard to say what it will do, but that’s what they’ve been estimating,” McKay said.

On Thursday, both BNSF and CP were called to meet with the U.S. Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Board.

Last week, Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., met with Rob Merrifeld, a member of the Canadian Parliament, and sent a letter to Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer over concerns with government mandates affecting Canadian Pacific’s performance. The Canadian government penalized CP for, according to a press release from Cramer’s office, “failure to make timely shipments for its domestic customers.”

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