Our Grains are Riding the Rail

Husker Home Place

They may have once been in decline, but railroads are now poised to help transport agriculture into a promising future.

Published on: June 25, 2013

As I was listening to Greg Guthrie, director of agriculture products for Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway speak at the Agrex, Inc. groundbreaking ceremony in Laurel last week, I couldn’t help but think about how crucial railroads have become again to agriculture in recent years. Guthrie told the group that he would be excited to see the first “Laurel train” coming from the Agrex, Inc. facility there, once the facility is completed.

With Agrex, Inc. breaking ground on a new 110-railcar shuttle-loader facility in Laurel along the BNSF line, the facility is sure to help local farmers access international markets for their corn and soybeans because of this key transportation link.

BREAKING GROUND: Greg Guthrie (right) with BNSF Railway, pitched some of the first dirt along with Laurel mayor, Mark Patefield (left), Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, and Agrex, Inc., CEO, Shu Kabayashi.
BREAKING GROUND: Greg Guthrie (right) with BNSF Railway, pitched some of the first dirt along with Laurel mayor, Mark Patefield (left), Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, and Agrex, Inc., CEO, Shu Kabayashi.

If you look at the state’s ethanol industry, and new grain and agriculture chemical facilities being built along rail lines across the state right now, you can see the resurgence of the rail industry.

As a kid in the early 1970s, I can recall trains coming into Crofton Elevator. But, that was a long time ago, and a long, steady decline in the rail freight industry in many parts of the country was to pass as trucks became more important to the transportation of commodities and ag inputs. With high fuel prices and increasing costs involved in other methods of freight transportation, rail is once again a big deal for agriculture, and no one is taking that for granted.

In an April newsrelease from the Soy Transportation Coalition, the importance of freight rail transportation is highlighted from a newly released report. This organization is comprised of soybean groups from eleven states, including the Nebraska Soybean Board, and concerns itself with ways that the soybean industry can benefit from a reliable, cost-effective transportation system. In their report, the Coalition states than over 900 million bushels of U.S. soybeans are moved by rail each year. By 2020, it is estimated that this volume will grow to 1.4 billion bushels.

It is noted in the release that most of the soybeans in the country are grown between 1000 and 1500 miles from the nation’s major ports. So, accessing these ports to international markets through rail is key to the growth of the industry and the profitability of farmers. The Coalition’s report discusses concerns about investment in railroads and how rail systems will build and keep up with demand going into the future.

The take home concept from the release for me was that rail is back in a very big way. And it is going to be extremely important in transporting commodities and farm products to market as we move into the future.

So, here is this week’s discussion question. What role do you believe railroads will play in the agriculture industry over the next few decades? Let us know about your thoughts.

You can read more about the groundbreaking at the Agrex, Inc. facility in Laurel in one of our summer print issues of Nebraska Farmer. Check out Nebraska Farmer online for the latest news on the growing and grazing season. You can read my new print column – Bow Creek Chronicles – in Nebraska Farmer magazine, or follow Husker Home Place on Twitter. And watch this blog the last Friday of every month for my “Field Editor’s Report” featuring the positive stories about the families who raise our food. Pass it on!