BISMARCK, N.D. – BNSF Railway Co. will add trains in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana solely for transporting fertilizer for spring crop planting, the railroad has told a federal oversight board.
“Simply put, we are working to deliver high volumes of fertilizer into the marketplace as quickly as we can,” the railroad said in a mandated response to the Surface Transportation Board that was released Thursday.
The federal board this week ordered BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railway to report their plans by Friday to ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments this spring.
BNSF beat the deadline. Calgary-based Canadian Pacific had not filed a response by midday Thursday.
The federal board ordered the railroads to submit the plans in response to a hearing it held last week on recent service problems in the nation’s rail network. Farmers and representatives of agriculture producers told the board that delays in fertilizer delivery could disrupt planting.
The board also ordered the railroads to provide weekly status reports on fertilizer delivery for the next six weeks, beginning April 25.
Increased crude oil and freight shipments have largely been blamed for causing the rail delays. BNSF, which is the biggest shipper in the Upper Midwest, has also said that rail service has been backlogged because of bad winter weather.
BNSF is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., based in Omaha, Neb.
In its reply, BNSF said it expects to move 52 fertilizer-dedicated trainloads over the next six weeks. The railroad said each train would pull 65 to 85 cars.
“This trainload goal is built on our forecasting discussions with our trainload customers,” BNSF said in its response.
The railroad said 21 trainloads are destined for South Dakota, 10 for North Dakota, six for Minnesota and two for Montana.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C., said rail service disruptions have hit those states hardest.
Johnson, a former North Dakota agriculture commissioner, said adequate fertilizer supplies are crucial for U.S. crop production.
“The demand for fertilizer is great, and it cannot be late by a week or two,” Johnson said. “There will be enormous logistical and economic impacts if fertilizer is not available.”