Threat of rail strike hangs over Nebraska farmers

“It’s kind of just another punch to the gut for farmers.”
A railroad labor strike is looming and could be devastating for Nebraska farmers.
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 11:11 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A black cloud is shading the harvest moon.

“It’s gonna be a mess if they don’t get this straightened around here in the very short term because as you know, the combines are sitting in the shop pointed out the door.”

Chapman farmer Greg Greving has made hundreds of trips to the other side of the world to build Nebraska’s share of the soybean market. Now the threat of a railroad labor strike threatens the agriculture supply chain in Nebraska and much of the U.S.

”It’s kind of just another punch to the gut for farmers.”

Jacqueline Holland is a grain market analyst for Farm Futures-Farm Progress. She’s in Grand Island along with thousands of industry members and enthusiasts this week for the annual Husker Harvest Days. There’s been plenty of talk among farmers about ways a rail strike would affect them.

“The farm industry is facing a lot of fallout from the pandemic,” Holland said. “It really kind of restricted global fertilizer supplies, the war in Ukraine also really constricted those supplies, as well as global grain supplies, so it’s just kind of another punch to the gut for farmers.”

The Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island are in their 40th year.

A painful example of supply chain concern can be found in soybean farming. Hungry markets in Asia and elsewhere count on soybeans to make the ships in the Gulf of Mexico and the west coast.

”It’s gonna be devastating because just about all of the soybeans that are produced here go to a crush plant, and that crush plant is in Hastings, and they send two unit trains of soybean meal per week to the Pacific Northwest,” Greving said. He sits on the USDA United Soybean Board. “That is loaded on bulk vessels there and shipped to Southeast Asia.”

The price of oil affects everybody, farmers included. A rail shutdown would also stop the delivery of corn to most ethanol plants.

“We also move oil by train,” UNL associate professor for supply chain management and analytics Scott Swenseth said. “We haven’t been building pipelines so train or truck are our options there as well, and therefore it’s going to slow down the flow of oil if this happens.”

“Most all of our yellow corn goes to an ethanol plant, and then gets made into ethanol and gets loaded on rail and gets shipped out of here,” Greving said. “If this shuts the ethanol plants down, that’s gonna affect the farmers because they’re not gonna take it.”

He points out the connecting list of worries, including the DDG used from the ethanol plants to make animal feed.

Not to pile on, but America relies heavily on trains and things that simply don’t move by truck alone.

“We’re also coming up on the holiday season and there’s going to be a lot of things moved by rail,” Swenseth said. “A lot of those things that we see moved by truck came on rail part way and then were switched to truck for the final mile, so we have to take that into consideration as well.”

Farmers and railroads already have a strained relationship.

The grain industry blames rail service slowdowns for an estimated $100 million in losses in the first quarter this year. And now, with a Friday deadline looming, they can’t do much more than hope there is no railroad strike and the wheels of agriculture can remain on track.