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Ag, Ethanol Industries Concerned About Rails

April 8, 2014, 6:40 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Ag, Ethanol Industries Concerned About Rails

Some in the agriculture and ethanol industries are saying they'll be in trouble if they don't get more product moving by rail quickly.

Farmers and others met in the northeast part of the state Tuesday to discuss solutions.

When a railroad gets behind, it's hard on those who rely on its service. At least that's what Glacial Lakes Energy board member H. Oscar Schlenker says. The company has ethanol plants near Mina and Watertown.

"We've reduced capacity for a couple of days a week at both Watertown and Mina down to probably 30 percent of our capability," Schlenker said.

The company relies on the rails to haul away ethanol it produces, but BNSF Railway is behind.

Dave Andresen is CEO of Britton-based Full Circle Ag. He says the agriculture industry needs a solution quickly.

He's first concerned that there won't be enough fertilizer in the area come planting time. Then, if corn doesn't get hauled away, he says, it could hurt the quality of the crop and eventually ruin it. That, he says, will affect both elevators and farmers.

Dennis Jones is a Brown County producer. He plans to travel to Washington, D.C. and is asking others for solutions he can propose while there.

"If you've got an idea, we need it," Jones said.

Several who met with Jones say agriculture is having to wait for service because the oil fields in North Dakota are getting more attention.

“BNSF is not favoring crude shipments over other shippers like agriculture,” BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said in a written statement.

According to that statement, several commodities using the BNSF network saw rapid growth and oil didn’t see the biggest increase.

"Half of all freight increases in the entire rail industry in 2013 occurred on BNSF's network," McBeth said.

Weather also slowed the railway. According to BNSF, it's brought in extra crews, locomotives and equipment for immediate help. And it’s putting billions of dollars into long-term improvements.

But producers are saying they need to see more results quickly or it's going to hurt them financially.

"That's all dollars that's not going to get turned around to local communities, buying the new tractor or repair the house or whatever it might be," Pierre area farm manager Pat Tracy said.

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