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Experts and farmers address transportation issue

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) held a one day forum in Alexandria to discuss the future of agricultural freight on Thursday, July 10. The forum featured experts from railroad companies, agricultural commodity groups and government agencies, including MDA commissioner Dave Frederickson.

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Rail providers and agricultural producers discussed strategies to successfully move product in the future. Agricultural producers have faced challenges securing space on rail, while providers are also feeling mounting pressure to transport more products on their lines.

Minnesota is the fourth-largest agricultural exporting state in the U.S. with exports reaching a record high of $8.2 billion in 2012, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Exports contribute more than one-third of the state’s total agricultural sales with more than 68,800 jobs being directly related to agricultural exports.

“Agriculture is arguably the most diverse chain of competitiveness,” said Mike Steenhoek, the executive director of Soy Transportation Coalition and the keynote speaker at the forum. “Farmers are heavily invested and dependent on every form of transportation; not many industries are.”

Steenhoek discussed multiple options for increasing the funding for agricultural freight, including a change to the nation’s fuel tax.

During the forum, a report done by the University of Minnesota was released that highlighted the damages done by delays in railroad shipping for Minnesota grain farmers. The delays have cost roughly $100 million and have cut deeply into the value of the grain still in storage at farms across the state, waiting for available room transportation.

The forum included two panel sessions where attendees could direct questions to the panels. The first panel consisted of Adam Sparger, an economist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Steve Milligan, an ombudsman from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway; Ryan Anderson, a senior product manager from Union Pacific; Bill Zurn, a former president of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council; and Bruce Abbe, the executive director of Midwest Shippers Association.

The second panel was made up of Tom Burgam, the deputy director of the Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Board; Bob Zelenka, the executive director of Minnesota Grain and Feed Association; Tom Haag, a former president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association; Dave Long, the vice president of marketing and sales for Twin Cities and Western Railroad Company; and Doug Conway, the director of sales for grain and grain products at Canadian Pacific Railway.

The forum took place at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria.

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
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