N.D. wants specifics on backlogged grain shipments

Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s congressional delegation is pressing Canadian Pacific Railway to provide details of its backlog of grain shipments, saying farmers need detailed information with fall harvest fast approaching.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board told Canadian Pacific and BNSF Railway in June to submit plans to address backlogs in northern Plains states and begin filing weekly updates.

But Sen John Hoeven, R-N.D., Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Canadian Pacific’s weekly report does not include a specific number of past-due rail cars or average lateness, leaving farmers in the dark.

“Canadian Pacific has not indicated any meaningful reductions in their backlog since these reports began,” Cramer said in a statement.

Grain bins across the state are full and harvests from prior years are being stored on the ground while awaiting rail cars.

Heitkamp, in a letter to the railroad’s chief executive, Hunter Harrison, said detailed information on grain shipments “will provide Canadian Pacific the opportunity to restore weakened confidence among its customers in my state.”

Canadian Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg said on July 22 that the railroad will provide detailed information on past-due rail shipments to the North Dakota lawmakers “as quickly as possible.”

“We take their concerns very seriously,” Greenberg said.

North Dakota is Canadian Pacific’s biggest customer for farm commodity shipments but the railroad also moves grain in Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Missouri, Greenberg said. The railroad has been moving more than 2,000 grain cars weekly in the states since June, Greenberg said. He did not immediately know the number of delayed rail cars.

Many farmers and some North Dakota officials believe the increased crude oil and freight shipments from the state’s booming oil patch are largely the cause of shipping delays, which have created big backlogs at grain elevators and added costs for agriculture shippers.

But BNSF and Canadian Pacific have said that brutal winter weather and bottlenecks in Chicago are to blame.

The lack of railcars has delayed shipping of agricultural products by as much as 40 days in recent months though Sen. Hoeven said BNSF, the biggest grain shipper in North Dakota, at least appears to be making progress.

“The first priority is for the railroads to get caught up,” Hoeven said.

BNSF reported 3,908 past due rail cars in North Dakota averaging 26 days late in its latest report to federal officials. That’s down about 14 percent from the previous week.

BNSF said North Dakota had the most past-due rail cars followed by Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota. The railroad said in its report only two of the 19 states it serves have no past-due rail cars.

Hoeven said BNSF accounts for two-thirds of the grain shipments in North Dakota, while Canadian Pacific has the remaining third of the business.

Hoeven said the North Dakota delegation have invited officials from both railroads to come to Bismarck next month to personally update farm groups on the status of grain shipments.

“We want to find out exactly where they’re at and their plan for harvest,” Hoeven said.