Extreme weather has hit many parts of the US this week with plenty of snow and frigid temperatures. Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says he’s receiving reports of shipments of soybeans and grain being delayed due to the weather.
He says the need to clear snow and ice from rail tracks is an obvious disruption, but less obvious is that trains rely on an air braking system to operate. “When you have severe cold temperatures, the efficacy of that air braking system is diminished. So, what railroads are forced to do is shorten the length of those trains. So, you will have fewer freight cars for a given unit. You’ll maintain the same number of locomotives but then you’re having fewer freight cars, and so that just makes the system less efficient.”
Steenhoek says they’re also seeing ice conditions impact certain segments of the inland waterway system, limiting the width of barge flotillas.
How could this impact you, the farmer?
“It could have an impact on the price farmers receive at point of sale. If, all of a sudden, an elevator is not able to move product out their back door because of weather related transportation challenges, they’re going to be less willing to accept product via their front door. So, what they often do is they’ll send a message to farmers that we can’t handle your deliveries, so we will drop the price, or the bid, that we’re willing to pay for a bushel of any given commodity.”
One area that is being hit especially hard right now is the Pacific Northwest.
“We have a lot of freight rail that’s connected from the Midwest and Plains States to the Pacific Northwest, the Portland, Oregon, the Seattle, Washington area. That’s our number two export region for soybeans and number one export region for wheat.”
Steenhoek is hopeful that this extreme weather won’t last, and the ag transportation system won’t be “gummed up” for much longer.