BNSF Railway Co. says fertilizer shipping commitment met

Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — BNSF Railway Co. has fulfilled its promise to haul sufficient fertilizer in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana to meet the needs of spring planting, the railroad said May 22.

But the head of a group that represents more than 40,000 farmers in North Dakota said it may not have happened if not for a prod from federal regulators and a delayed spring planting season.

The Surface Transportation Board last month ordered BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railway to submit the plans to ensure fertilizer was available for spring planting. Increased crude oil and freight shipments have largely been blamed for causing the rail delays. The railroads have blamed bad weather and rail traffic congestion.

BNSF, which moves the bulk of the freight in the Upper Great Plains, had committed 52 trains to catch up on fertilizer shipments. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said on May 22 that the railroad has loaded 53 trains and 50 have been delivered.

“The remainder will be delivered soon,” she said.

BNSF is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., based in Omaha, Nebraska. The railroad is the biggest player in the rich oil fields of Montana and North Dakota, hauling about 75 percent of the more than 1 million barrels that moves out of the region daily. The railroad also is the biggest hauler of freight in the Upper Great Plains.

Canadian Pacific Railway told regulators earlier that moving fertilizer for spring planting did not present a “significant challenge” for the railroad. Canadian Pacific said it’s a small player in U.S. fertilizer shipments, moving fewer than 50 cars daily with an overall market share of about 10 percent.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman Calgary, Alberta-based railroad, said on May 22 that railroad has no backlogged fertilizer shipments.

“We’re current,” Greenberg said. “CP is moving all fertilizers presented to our railroad.”

North Dakota farmers each year use about 800,000 tons of nitrogen-based fertilizer to help increase production of wheat, corn and other crops.

Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, said the state’s current fertilizer supplies appear to be adequate.

“We’re not getting any calls about fertilizer being short,” Watne said.

Spring planting in North Dakota is about a week or so behind the long-term average due to cold, wet weather, he said.

“I think the railroads benefited by that,” he said. “I also believe that (the federal oversight) brought it to the forefront and made it a priority for them to make sure they delivered fertilizer on time.”

Watne said grain shipments were days behind schedule on May 22, adding to the costs for grain elevators and agricultural producers.

BNSF has pledged to get caught up on the backlogs before fall harvest.