Rail Coalition Leaders Meet; Ag Groups Write STB with Concerns

April 15, 2011 Bookmark and Share

Rail competition and service for wheat producers were the focus of meetings and lobbying efforts this week in Washington.

NAWG President Wayne Hurst and Second Vice President Bing Von Bergen traveled to D.C. to attend the executive committee meeting of the Alliance for Rail Competition (ARC), a key coalition working to improve rail conditions for wheat producers and other shippers.

While in town, they also met with a number of Senators and their staff members on Wednesday to promote rail transportation legislation and to advocate for proportional cuts government-wide in the FY2012 budget process.

Meetings were held with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.); John Hoeven (R-N.D.); James Risch (R-Idaho); and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and with staff in the offices of Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.); John Cornyn (R-Texas); Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); Dick Lugar (R-Ind.); Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.); and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The group asked the Senators to cosponsor S. 158, the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2011, and S. 49, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2011.

The grower-leaders were joined at the ARC meeting and in the Hill visits by NAWG CEO Dana Peterson and NAWG Director of Government Affairs for Farm Policy Eric Steiner.

Also this week, NAWG joined a group of a dozen agriculture groups submitting comments about competition in the rail industry to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the railroads’ regulator.

In the eight-page submission, the groups described the nature and structure of the agricultural markets and competitiveness issues that continue to plague farmers and other ag actors.

There are approximately 15,000 shipping points accessed by the agriculture industry in the U.S., with railroad shipping account for approximately 35 percent of the total physical volume of ag goods moved.

In too many of these areas, agriculture continues to face problems with the cost of shipping, particularly in areas with no rail competition; switching costs; and paper barriers.

The groups writing emphasized that unlike in some other industries, litigation is unlikely to lead to appropriate remedies for agricultural shipper concerns.

“The fact that individual agriculture shipper locations tend to be lower volume than many industries and markets often shift direction means that agricultural shippers cannot afford heavy litigation costs to solve situations where competition seems to be lacking,” the groups said.

The groups specifically highlighted a decade-old private arbitration system established by the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) for its constituents and the major railroads, which could be a model for future public or private arbitration systems.

NAWG works through a variety of outlets to help improve rail competitiveness and pricing for wheat producers. In addition to being an active member of ARC, NAWG also works with the Ag Rail Business Council, which is a forum for farmers and BNSF Railway executives to share ideas and concerns.

For more about NAWG’s rail work and the comments submitted this week to the STB, please visit www.wheatworld.org/transportation.