Rail Strike Risks Harvest and Biofuels

Ag Groups Call on Congress to Stop Possible Rail Strike as Service Winds Down


By Chris Clayton, DTN/Progressive Farmer



WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Farmers in areas that rely heavily on railroads to move commodities could see some significant basis challenges and more problems getting access to fertilizer, and livestock producers could risk problems getting access to feed as well if talks between railroads, unions and government officials fail to reach a labor deal before Friday.


Consumers also could face even higher food and fuel prices if rail movement halts delivery of products such as ethanol to refineries.


After more than two years of talks, a Presidential Emergency Board spelling out terms of a possible middle ground, and a 30-day period of extended talks, the deadline for a strike comes down to 12:01 a.m. Friday. The negotiations involve 12 unions representing more than 100,000 workers as well as the country's largest freight railroads.


Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, weighed in Wednesday, calling on workers and railroad company management to reach a deal immediately to keep trains moving, or Congress should prepare to step in to avoid a rail stoppage.


"An extended rail strike would have cascading effects on farmers and ranchers, and the best solution for agriculture and the U.S. economy is to avoid a strike entirely," Duvall said in a news release. "There is no real substitute for moving agricultural goods, as trucks can only move a small percentage of grain and other products typically transported by rail, and river transport is only an option for certain geographic areas. A rail strike now would reverse the supply chain improvements achieved in the past year and make it more difficult for U.S. farmers and ranchers to address rising global food insecurity."


Labor Secretary Martin Walsh met Wednesday with the heads of unions representing engineers and conductors, and railroad negotiators. The conductors and engineers are the two key unions holding out, and they make up more than half of all the rail workers involved in the labor talks.


As of late afternoon Wednesday, no positive announcements had been made. Reports earlier this week also suggested the White House was drafting an emergency order to ensure some vital products continue to be shipped even if there is a strike.


The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said Wednesday its 4,900 members rejected the latest proposal reached with the Class I railroads.


Amtrak on Wednesday also canceled its long-distance routes for Thursday as a precaution.


Congress has the power to step in and avert a rail strike if agreements between the rail carriers and labor unions are not reached...