Thinking About Rail During Harvest
by Wayne Hurst, Guest Comment
Capital Press, August 22, 2008
Wheat harvest is an exciting, rewarding and busy time.
Have you ever been on the combine, watching the grain roll in, thinking that you're getting every possible kernel in the grain bin, only to find out later that somehow a clean-out door on the tailings auger was left open, or somewhere else on the machine, a hole had developed, leaking valuable grain on the ground?
That lost grain can represent a significant part of our profits. This is money from our pockets that our farm operations can use, and money that our families need. It's amazing how quickly and easily hard-earned profits can slip away.
For many of us, we also lose tens of thousands of dollars in profit each year by paying more than we should in excess freight.
In order to create wealth, growers ship our wheat to market all over the world, absorbing much of the cost to do so just like we absorb the cost of shipping inputs to our farms.
By paying far more than is reasonable in many areas that lack competition, we lose money directly out of our pockets, much the same way we would if we allowed precious wheat to dribble out on the ground every year at harvest.
By contrast, railroad stockholders and shippers in competitive markets benefit from our lost profits.
Transportation is one of the most important cost components in the marketing of grains. The National Association of Wheat Growers Domestic Policy Committee has spent a lot of time over the years on rail transportation, and NAWG continues to represent growers' interests on these issues before Congress and in proceedings before the Surface Transportation Board.
The board is slowly looking at its own processes as captive rail shippers continue to bring pressure to Congress to change the way it does business.
NAWG together with other captive shippers has and continues to serve an important role for its members with constructive and responsible pleadings and comments in STB proceedings to further the captive shipper's interest.
Recent efforts have included comments on the common carrier obligation, fuel surcharges and competition issues.
In Congress, HR2125, which would promote competition for producers, also might see hearings later this year. An important part of that legislation for agriculture would be final offer arbitration, a provision for which NAWG has advocated for many years.
For years we have worked on legislation and regulation reform, and we have been a leader in coalitions of other captive shippers to gain support in needed reforms. We are now seeing some momentum from our work.
Just as we do at harvest time, now is the time to remain focused, do what is needed and see that we accomplish our goals.
If we do so, we will enjoy the rewards for years to come.
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