Transportation goes hand in hand with agriculture, and Minnesota’s soybean industry was given the opportunity to illustrate just how vital reliable rail service is during a meeting of the Governor’s Council on Freight Rail last month.
Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council CEO Tom Slunecka presented the concerns of soybean farmers, processors and exporters at the Nov. 18 meeting, as well as their hopes and expectations for the future, before what is expected to be a busy shipping season.
“It was an opportunity to remind the rail industry of the importance of agriculture and the seasonality of our business,” Slunecka said. “It was a great way to introduce ourselves to new members of the group and let them know that MSR&PC can be a resource for them going forward.”
It was also a unique opportunity, as MSR&PC was the only ag group invited to the meeting.
“We were able to raise the issue of container shortages and discuss a wide range of rail issues, from fertilizer shipments coming in, to grain going out,” Slunecka said.
Minnesota soybean farmers, processors and exporters rely on rail as crops are largely sent to Pacific Northwest (PNW) ports. A large carryover from 2019 and an 8% year-over-year increase in soybean acreage in Minnesota in 2020, along with an increased demand for soybeans abroad, mean that reliable rail service is crucial. Forecasts show bulk rail to the PNW to be at peak capacity in January and February, a time when bad weather, such as ice, snow and avalanches, has been known to cause service delays due to equipment problems. New this year, on the human side, could be staffing issues due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“These exports are critical to U.S. farmers,” Slunecka said. “Congestion may hinder the reliability of U.S. crops and cause a shift to other origins, such as South America.”
Reliability is important to buyers of U.S. agricultural products, so the assurance of efficient transportation is vital.
A shortage of containers for exporters from the Upper Midwest is a concern. The Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance recently brought to light the issue of container ocean containers discontinuing ag shipments, choosing to send empty containers back to Asia for higher-value consumer imports rather than repositioning them inland for agricultural products. Slunecka explained those challenges, as well as other shipping practices that are causing delays and other hardships for U.S. ag exporters to the Governor’s Council.
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association will continue advocating for the importance of efficient rail service throughout the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session.