Monday, November 18, 2019

Monday November 18 Ag News


For the week ending November 17, 2019, there were 6.0 days suitable for fieldwork, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 3 percent very short, 16 short, 79 adequate, and 2 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 1 percent very short, 11 short, 85 adequate, and 3 surplus.

Field Crops Report:

Corn harvested was 85 percent, near 86 last year, and behind 91 for the five-year average.

Winter wheat condition rated 2 percent very poor, 3 poor, 25 fair, 53 good, and 17 excellent.

Sorghum harvested was 79 percent, behind 90 last year and 93 average.

Pasture and Range Report:

Pasture and range conditions rated 1 percent very poor, 5 poor, 19 fair, 63 good, and 12 excellent.


 Snowfall in the first part of the week ending November 17, 2019 slowed down harvesting activities in parts of Iowa by limiting farmers to 4.7 days suitable for fieldwork according to the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service. Propane shortages continued to be a challenge for farmers across the State as they try to dry down their corn crop due to high moisture content. Fieldwork activities included harvesting corn and soybeans; baling corn stalks; applying anhydrous and fertilizer; and fall tillage.

Topsoil moisture condition was rated 0 percent very short, 2 percent short, 83 percent adequate and 15 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture condition was rated 0 percent very short, 2 percent short, 83 percent adequate and 15 percent surplus.

Seventy-seven percent of the corn for grain crop has been harvested, 10 days behind last year and 12 days behind the 5-year average. Producers in the Northwest and North Central Districts have harvested over 85 percent of their expected crop, while harvest in the Northeast District was just 58 percent complete. Moisture content of field corn being harvested for grain was at 20 percent.

Ninety-five percent of the soybean crop has been harvested, over 1 week behind average. The South Central and Southeast Districts still have more than 10 percent of their soybean crop remaining to be harvested.

The number of cattle grazing on corn stalks increased this past week. There were also reports that below normal temperatures and mud have been stressful on livestock.

USDA: Corn 76% Harvested; Soybeans 91% Harvested

The U.S. soybean harvest has entered the home stretch, while about a quarter of the corn crop remains to be harvested as of Sunday, Nov. 17, according to USDA NASS' latest Crop Progress report released Monday.

Nationwide, corn harvest moved ahead another 10 percentage points to reach 76% complete as of Sunday, 16 percentage points behind the five-year average of 92%. That was slightly nearer to normal than the previous week when harvest was running 19 percentage points behind the five-year average.

Meanwhile, soybean harvest slowed somewhat last week, but moved ahead another 6 percentage points to reach 91% as of Sunday, only 4 percentage points behind the five-year average of 95%.

Winter wheat progress continued at a near-average pace last week. As of Sunday, 95% of winter wheat was planted, equal to the five-year average. Winter wheat emerged was estimated at 83%, 3 percentage points behind the five-year average of 86%.

Winter wheat condition declined again, falling 2 percentage points from 54% good to excellent the previous week to 52% as of Sunday. The current rating is down from 56% last year at the same time but equal to the rating given two years ago.

Sorghum harvested reached 93%, ahead of the five-year average of 87%. Cotton harvested was estimated at 68%, also ahead of the average pace of 66%.

Butler Co. farmer and leader awarded NRRA’s “Service to Agriculture Award”

The Nebraska Rural Radio Association bestowed it’s prestigious “Service to Agriculture Award” Monday to Rising City farmer and leader Bart Ruth. NRRA President Ben Steffen of Humboldt presented the award during the NRRA’s 69th annual meeting in Lexington. Ruth is past President of the American Soybean Association and also several roles with the Nebraska Soybean Association. He currently co-chairs the 25×25 National Renewable Energy Steering Committee and is President of Ag Builders of Nebraska.

During his remarks, Ruth said as he looked around the room he say the faces of many men and women with whom he has had the privilege of working alongside. He noted that he “watched as they impacted Agriculture and served as mentors to me.” Ruth is a 6th generation farm operator and noted that “several traits that were instilled in me early in life were dedication to family, active attendance and leadership in our small, rural church and service to the community.” Ruth is the 33rd recipient of the “Service to Agriculture Award”.

Craig Larson will be stepping down as General Manager of the NRRA on January 1, 2020. He will be succeeded by current Chief Operating Officer Tim Marshall but, Larson will continue to assist in the transition. Larson has served with the NRRA for nearly 25 years with the last 8 of them as General Manager.

Elections were conducted for Board of Director positions. There were three open positions and current Directors Steffen, Dennis Fujan and Doug Saathoff were re-elected. Other NRRA Board Members include Russ Anderson of Hyannis, Bart Beattie of Sumner, Debbie Borg of Allen, Rich Lackaff of Bassett, Jim Ramm of Atkinson and Elaine Redfern of Holdrege.

Ricketts Spotlights German Biotech Investments as Trade Mission Concludes

This weekend, Governor Pete Ricketts wrapped up his first trade mission to Germany.  His final activities included visiting companies that have made key investments in Nebraska and promoting Nebraska beef.

On Friday, Gov. Ricketts started his day with a tour of Bayer’s learning center in Leverkusen and met with executives to thank them for their investment in the state.  In Nebraska, Bayer has facilities in Gothenburg, Waco, York, Kearney, Beaver Crossing, Gretna, and Omaha.  From biotech research to detasseling, their investment in Nebraska helps create thousands of job opportunities.

In Essen, Gov. Ricketts visited the international headquarters of Evonik, a company that has been producing the amino acid L-lysine at a plant in Blair, Nebraska for about 20 years.  According to the company, the amino acid is “an animal feed additive that benefits food production and increases sustainability.”

Evonik is also a part of a joint venture with DSM of the Netherlands at a second plant in Blair.  This joint venture, Veramaris, is a bioscience company that is revolutionizing feed nutrition.  The state-of-the-art Blair facility produces omega-3 fatty acids for animal nutrition through the cultivation and fermentation of natural marine algae.  Traditionally, omega-3 production has relied on fish oil obtained from live-caught fish.  Veramaris’ breakthrough procedure—which harnesses dextrose from Nebraska corn—satisfies commercial feed demands, particularly in aquaculture (fish farming), while conserving oceanic biodiversity.

Both Evonik investments are a part of a growing bioscience campus in Blair, Nebraska that also includes investments from Cargill and Novozymes.

On Friday, Gov. Ricketts and American Consul General Fiona Evans of Düsseldorf hosted a lunch for beef buyers to promote Nebraska beef.  Under a new agreement, the European Union (EU) will allow the U.S. to almost triple the amount of beef exported to the region.  In 2005, only five percent of the U.S. beef entering the EU came from Nebraska.  By 2018, Nebraska’s share rose to 53%, and was valued at $124.3 million.

Following lunch, Gov. Ricketts met with North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Minister President Armin Laschet to discuss opportunities to expand engagement between Nebraska and NRW.  NRW is the largest state in Germany, and home to German companies investing in Nebraska.

Extension, FSA to Host Farm Bill Education Meetings Across Northeast Nebraska in December

Nebraska Extension and USDA Farm Service Agency in Nebraska will host a series of Farm Bill education meetings next month to assist producers as they begin to make farm-bill related program decisions. The 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law last December, reauthorized the existing Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) safety net programs that were in the 2014 Farm Bill, however producers will need to make new program enrollment decisions over the coming months.

While the ARC and PLC programs under the new farm bill remain very similar to the previous farm bill, a few program changes coupled with changes in market conditions and outlook could significantly impact producer decisions.

“These meetings will help producers understand the programs and recent changes, as well as the decisions to be made at sign-up now and in the coming years,” said Nancy Johner, State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Nebraska. “There are some changes, such as an optional PLC program yield update, and other tweaks to the ARC and PLC programs that producers should consider as they make their selections.”

“Producers face a familiar choice between ARC and PLC, but under very different circumstances now as compared to 2014,” said Brad Lubben, Policy Specialist with Nebraska Extension. “Understanding the program mechanics, analysis and available decision tools will help producers make sound enrollment decisions with FSA.”

The joint Nebraska Extension and Nebraska Farm Service Agency producer education meetings are scheduled at seven locations in northeast Nebraska in December in advance of the coming ARC/PLC enrollment deadlines in early 2020.

The meetings are all free and open to the public. Advance registration is encouraged for planning purposes for materials and facilities. Attendees can register for any of the meetings conveniently on the web at or by calling or visiting their county FSA or Extension office. The educational programs are each set to run three hours in length, featuring information and insight from FSA specialists and Extension experts, as well as other relevant information from local agencies.

The meeting schedule for northeast Nebraska is as follows:

Bloomfield - Community Center - December 2, 1:30-4:30 PM
O'Neill - Community Center - December 3, 9 AM-12 NOON
Columbus - Ag Park - December 4, 9 AM-12 NOON
Dakota City – Dakota County Service Center – December 5, 1:30-4:30 PM
West Point - Nielsen Center - December 9, 9 AM-12 NOON
Wayne - Wayne Fire Hall - December 16, (2 meetings) 1-4 PM or 6-9 PM
Norfolk - Northeast Community College Lifelong Learning Center - December 18, 1-4 PM

Please check the website for updates on locations, dates and times. All times are local with registration beginning 30 minutes ahead of start.

There also are resources available online that can educate producers in their ARC/PLC decision-making process. Links to these resources are available from FSA at under the Spotlights section or from Extension at


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is contacting producers for the December Hogs and Pigs Survey. This end-of-year survey is the most comprehensive gathering of quarterly data on market hog and breeding stock inventories as well as pig crop and farrowing intentions in every state.

“According to the most recent Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report in September, there were 77.7 million hogs and pigs in the United States,” said Nicholas Streff, NASS Northern Plains Regional Director. “The December survey and resulting report will continue to provide important indicators for the industry of what changes are occurring – if any.”

NASS will mail the questionnaires to all producers selected for the survey in late November. To ensure all survey participants have an opportunity to respond, NASS interviewers will contact producers who do not respond by mail or online to conduct telephone and personal interviews.

The data gathered in this survey allow NASS to accurately measure and report conditions and trends in the U.S. pork industry over the course of the year. The information is used by all sectors of the industry, including producers themselves, to help make sound and timely business decisions.

NASS will publish the survey results in the Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report on December 23. All NASS reports are available online at For more information, call the NASS Northern Plains Regional Office at (800) 582-6443.


Bruce Anderson, NE Exension Forage Specialist

Grass remaining for winter grazing can really help cut feed costs for stock cows.  Your grazing strategy can greatly influence how effectively you use this pasture.

Grazing winter range or pastures has many benefits.  It can save as much as a dollar a day per cow compared to feeding hay.  It removes old growth so pasture next spring and summer is fresher.  And some weeds may be eaten that cattle won’t touch during summer.  Plus, there is little risk of damage to your dormant pasture as long as grazing occurs while the ground is firm.

But the way you manage your cattle during winter grazing can have a big effect on its success.  For instance, maybe you have a goal of feeding as little protein supplement as possible while winter grazing.  If so, you then must make sure your stocking level is light enough so cattle can select just the higher quality plants and plant parts to eat.           

Another strategy might be to stretch winter pasture as far as possible.  Then it might be best to restrict animal access to small areas at a time, like with strip grazing, and feed supplements as needed.  Or, if you use forage from winter range just as a filler to keep cattle from bellowing when you limit feed corn, corn by-products, or other nutrient dense feeds, then high stocking levels and unrestricted access might be best.

Whatever your strategy, though, consider carefully what kind of nutrition animals are getting from the pasture so you neither underfeed nor overfeed expensive supplements.  And be sure to provide salt, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A free choice at all times.

Winter grazing is a great opportunity to reduce winter feed costs.  With the right grazing strategy, it can help you meet many of your feeding goals.

2019 NC Convention & Trade Show

It’s that time of year again... HOLIDAY SEASON! With all the hustle and bustle don't forget about CONVENTION! This year we are squeezing the Nebraska Cattlemen Annual Convention and Trade Show in the week after Thanksgiving! Tis' the season!

Convention begins on Wednesday December 4th with the member services meeting, council meetings and opening general session. Have you seen our line up for general session yet? We’ve got comments from NC President Mike Drinnin, recognition of board members and top hands, comments from EVP Pete MycClymont, YCC graduating class, and then Stan Garbacz will talk with us about international trade followed by Jerry Bohn giving us an NCBA update and closing with Don Close with a market outlook. Immediately following the opening general session meet us in the Trade Show for the Welcome Reception.

New this year are the Trade Show presentations beginning bright and early and lasting throughout the day on Thursday. Keynote speaker Tom Field will talk with listeners on "The Family Enterprise". Thursday is also a day full of committee meetings, NC Foundation Luncheon and the Annual Banquet.

Friday begins bright and early with the Market Outlook Breakfast and followed up with the Annual Business Meeting. We encourage you to be apart of the business meeting as our policy is not set until approved by the membership. During this meeting we will review the six policy committee resolutions and policy statements and set the direction for Nebraska Cattlemen. Also, membership will elect the 2020 Nebraska Cattlemen leadership.

NC and NCBA PAC Silent Auction

The ever-popular PAC silent auction will again be at the 2019 NC Annual Convention. This is the primary fundraiser for both the NC PAC and funds sent to NCBA for use on federal elections. Consignments include:
    Nebraska Made Gift Basket
    Light up Snow Man              
    Boot Photo                                   
    Husker Men’s Basket Ball Tickets               
    Flag Flown @ Capitol                  
    Pheasant Hunt                              
    2 Waygu Cross Steaks                   
    Scale n Trail                               
    LipSense Package                         
    Bomb Cyclone Survivor Basket 

Rooms held at:

           Fairfield Inn & Suites – $104.95/night – 308-236-4200    
           Comfort Inn - $104.95/night – 308-236-3400
           La Quinta Inn & Suites - $104.95/night – 308-237-4400

More information and details at

Humphreys, Matsen to join National Pork Board Leadership Team

The National Pork Board has named two new executives to its leadership team. Bryan Humphreys has been named the vice president of producer, state and industry relations, and Jacque Matsen has been named vice president of strategic communications. Both will assume their new roles Dec. 16.

Humphreys grew up working on the family farm in Iowa raising hogs, corn and soybeans. After receiving his bachelor's degree from Iowa State University, he organized grassroots efforts and managed multiple political campaigns around the country. In 2009, he joined the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) as the director of grassroots, where he encouraged pork producers to tell their stories and interact with influencers and key decision makers. As part of this role, Humphreys also spent time in more urban areas helping educate elected officials and other influential decision makers on modern pork production practices. 

In 2014, Humphreys became the executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Council, where he led efforts around some most pressing social and environmental issues of the day. 

“Bryan is highly respected by pork producers in Ohio and his colleagues around the country,” said Bill Even, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. “Ohio Pork has led from the front in terms of innovation and consumer engagement under his leadership, and we’re excited to have him bring a new approach to the national organization’s producer and state outreach efforts.”

Matsen, an Ames, Iowa native, earned degrees in Journalism and Political Science from Iowa State University. She comes to the Pork Board from the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) where she served as administrator of the marketing & communications division, which also includes the Iowa Tourism Office. In this role, she oversaw strategic marketing and communication efforts in support of IEDA’s mission to strengthen economic and community vitality across the state. 

Before joining IEDA, Matsen was a senior vice president in the Kansas City office of FleishmanHillard.  There, she counseled clients on building markets for new products, crisis response and media engagement. Prior to her agency experience, Matsen oversaw global public affairs for DuPont Pioneer (now Corteva Agriscience) where she managed issues such as biotech/GMO acceptance, and was responsible for executive communications, thought leadership and traditional/social media efforts. Matsen joined Pioneer after spending more than 10 years at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Denver, Colorado, where she led beef industry responses to animal welfare videos, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and the use of lean, finely textured beef. 

“Jacque’s experience as a leader in ag communication will be invaluable to us as we launch ‘Checkoff 4.0,’” said Even. “Her experience in association, business, and government communication, as well as shaping consumer perception about products and practices will be vital to the pork industry as we face a dynamic, rapidly changing marketplace and increasing threats to production from foreign animal disease.” 

U.S. Pig Farmers Embrace Responsible Antibiotic Use Every Day

America’s 60,000 pig farmers are dedicated to raising healthy animals to ensure a safe food supply. Today, that commitment means placing a high priority on using antibiotics responsibly for the health of people, pigs and the planet. As this year’s U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week and World Antibiotic Awareness Week, Nov. 18-24, gets underway, America’s pig farmers want to highlight their ongoing efforts to achieve excellent antibiotic stewardship and their determination to always seek improvement.

“Using antibiotics responsibly is something that pig farmers are doing every single day,” said David Newman, a pig farmer from Arkansas and the National Pork Board president. “Antibiotic Awareness Week is a good time to reinforce this stewardship by reviewing herd-health plans and the best practices found in the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) certification program. It’s also a good time to involve all animal caretakers and continue to raise their awareness about the role they play in responsible antibiotic use.”

Directed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week raises awareness of antibiotic resistance risks and the importance for all sectors – human health, animal health and the environment – to use antibiotics responsibly. An estimated 300 organizations participate in Antibiotic Awareness Week, including federal agencies, health departments, professional societies, corporations and advocacy groups. The CDC’s year-round effort includes its education program – Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care – that addresses all antibiotic uses (#BeAntibioticsAware).

“Resolving antimicrobial resistance is a shared goal across human, animal and environmental sectors and a great example of the One Health global initiative,” said Heather Fowler, DVM, director of producer and public health for the Pork Board. “All of the different antibiotic-user groups came together and are committed to addressing antimicrobial resistance. For their part, U.S. pig farmers are thinking innovatively about how they can help ensure that antibiotics remain effective for everyone.”

Fowler points to the industry’s PQA Plus program as a practical way to address all areas of on-farm pig production, including a section dedicated to responsible antibiotic use, public health and animal care. Now in its third decade, PQA Plus trains and certifies pig farmers and their employees on best practices.  

Antibiotic research is another priority for U.S. pig farmers. Through their national Pork Checkoff, nearly $2.5 million has been dedicated to antibiotic research over the past five years. Just this year, $400,000 in Checkoff funds were dedicated to research antimicrobial resistance and on-farm antibiotic use.

To further leverage research dollars, the Pork Board recently joined the International Consortium for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Agriculture (ICASA), a public-private partnership created by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. Among its objectives is to advance research on antimicrobial stewardship in animal agriculture. ICASA’s membership includes businesses throughout the supply chain, such as McDonald’s, JBS and Tyson.

“This is another way to partner with other organizations with a shared interest in antimicrobial research and to multiply research dollars,” Fowler said.

Throughout the year, the Pork Board maintains a direct relationship with the CDC, participating in meetings, presentations and direct dialogue on antimicrobial issues. In fall 2018, the CDC established the AMR Challenge, asking organizations to commit to specific plans to combat antimicrobial resistance. The Pork Board designated education and outreach activities, which included a farm tour this past summer for public health officials.

“We brought the public health officials to a farm to see pig production firsthand and to see how pig farmers use antibiotics responsibly every day,” Fowler said. “The farm tour, which we hope to conduct again in 2020, also encouraged open dialogue.”

Committed to monitoring outcomes, the Pork Board continues to work on developing metrics to document responsible antibiotic use on pig farms. The goal is to benchmark use, identify areas to improve, reinforce training and show progress in overall antibiotic stewardship.

“Pig farmers have a positive story to tell, and Antibiotic Awareness Week is a good opportunity to share our message with the public,” Newman said. “From herd-health strategies to biosecurity measures, to daily care and management, we are committed to continuous improvement and doing what’s right for the health of people, pigs and the planet.”

Trade Stability with Soy’s #2 Market is in Sight!

Soybean farmers are confident Congress can pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by year end. To encourage the process and show support of the agreement, farmer leaders from throughout the nation’s 30 soybean-producing states will converge on Capitol Hill Nov. 19 to request Congress keep moving the bill forward before its 2019 calendar is completed.

“Soybean farmers are clearly in a prolonged period of trade uncertainty. USMCA would assure we have stable, open access to Mexico and Canada, both vital markets for our crop,” said Bill Gordon, soybean farmer from Worthington, Minn., and vice president of the American Soybean Association (ASA).

Mexico is the #2 market for whole beans, meal and oil, and Canada is the #4 buyer of meal and #7 buyer of oil for U.S. soybean farmers, making the trade agreement essential to sustaining the growth realized in those two countries under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under NAFTA, U.S. soybean sales to Mexico quadrupled and to Canada doubled.

ASA and other agriculture groups continue to advocate online for #USMCAnow and hope that the growers’ outreach in person this week in D.C. will impress upon Congressional leaders the immediate need to ratify USMCA.

E15 Summer Sales Up 46 Percent in 2019

Growth Energy announced that summer sales of E15 – a fuel with 15 percent renewable biofuel often sold as Unleaded 88 at the pump – are up 46 percent in 2019 compared to 2018 on a per-store basis. Additionally, for the first time, this past summer saw the number of stores offering Unleaded 88 increase. Led by Casey’s, the retail industry added 149 stores over the summer months. The 2019 summer driving season was the first summer Unleaded 88 was sold without restriction and this increase underscored the fuel’s popularity with drivers who have logged more than 11 billion miles on it.

“Unleaded 88 provides American drivers unrivaled value at the fuel pump and the explosive growth in summer sales demonstrate what we’ve always known—once consumers have access to this engine-smart, earth-kind fuel they will come back again and again,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor. “With summertime sales already up 46 percent over last summer, we expect to see interest from retailers and consumers alike continue to grow.”

Growth Energy works with leading retailers including Casey’s, Cumberland Farms, Family Express, Holiday, Kum & Go, Kwik Trip, Minnoco, Murphy USA, Protec Fuel, Pump & Pantry, QuikTrip, RaceTrac, Royal Farms, Rutters, Sheetz, and Thorntons to give more drivers access to cleaner burning, high-octane Unleaded 88 at more than 2,000 stations across the U.S. These retailers sell between 2.2 to 2.5 million fuel gallons per year which amounts to over 200 percent more fuel gallons per year than what the average fuel retailer sells annually.

New National FFA Advisor & Executive Secretary Named

The National Council for Agricultural Education named Dr. James Woodard the Director of Agricultural Education, FFA Board Chair and National FFA Advisor. Amendments to the National FFA Constitution and Bylaws adopted by the delegates at the 92nd National FFA Convention & Expo stipulated that it is now the responsibility of The Council to appoint this leadership position.

Dr. Woodard replaces Dr. Steve Brown, who has served as board chair and national advisor for the past 11 years. Dr. Brown recently retired from his position at the U.S. Department of Education after 39 years of service to the agricultural education profession.

In this role, Dr. Woodard will serve as chairperson of the National FFA Board of Directors, where he will provide oversight for the National FFA Organization. He will advise the National FFA Officers, the board of directors, and the National FFA Delegates and committees on matters of policy, and will help the national officers conduct meetings. In this three-year renewable role, he will co-direct the joint governance committee of the National FFA Organization and the National FFA Foundation Board of Trustees, and serve as an advocate for issues affecting FFA and agricultural education stakeholders.

The national board of directors also named Cheryl Zimmerman executive secretary for National FFA. In this role, she will be primarily responsible for issuing charters to state FFA associations as directed by the national board of directors; keeping official board meeting minutes and membership records; tracking the progress of the organization and overseeing state FFA association reporting to the board. Zimmerman has served on the National FFA Board of Directors as a consultant and member since 2016. She currently serves as the Wisconsin FFA executive director, where she provides leadership for more than 250 FFA chapters. She studied agricultural education and agricultural journalism at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

NGFA outlines recommendations to STB on rail rate reform proposals

The National Grain Feed Association (NGFA) on Nov. 12 submitted two statements to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) largely supporting, but outlining recommendations to improve further, the agency’s proposals designed to reform the process available to shippers to challenge unreasonable freight rail rates.

In its first statement, the NGFA supported the agency’s proposal to implement a streamlined “final-offer rate review” process that would provide rail customers with a more workable approach to challenge unreasonable freight rail rates within an expedited time frame.

“NGFA-member companies believe unreasonably high rail rates have become more prevalent and significant given the rapid consolidation of the North American freight rail marketplace and the implementation of the so-called ‘precision scheduled railroad’ operating model by six of the seven Class I railroads, which reinforces the importance and timeliness” of the STB’s proposal, the NGFA wrote. “As NGFA’s rail arbitration system has shown that merely having realistic access to an effective forum for resolving disputes in a timely, fair and cost-effective manner can help discipline business conduct without cases ever being filed.”

The NGFA noted that in 2014 it had developed and submitted to the STB its own version of a new, simplified rate-challenge methodology intended to be workable for agricultural rail users. Subsequently, a 2015 report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board also found the STB’s rate-challenge processes to be complex, time-consuming and costly, with no agricultural shipper having filed a rate challenge in nearly 40 years.

“The NGFA continues to strongly support efforts by the (STB) to improve its rules for reviewing the reasonableness of railroad rates and to make them more workable, accessible and useful for agricultural shippers,” the NGFA wrote.

The NGFA recommended that the STB make several improvements to its “final-offer rate review” process proposal before issuing a final rule, including removing the proposed $4 million cap on rate relief over a two-year period and developing guidance for shippers on how to utilize the new process effectively. They are outlined here.

In a second statement submitted to the STB on Nov. 12, the NGFA strongly supported – but recommended several significant changes to – the agency’s proposal to develop and adopt a streamlined approach that shippers could use to demonstrate that a freight railroad has “market dominance” over a given transportation movement, which is a prerequisite before a rail customer can challenge the reasonableness of a rail rate. Among other things, the NGFA recommended that the STB improve its method for calculating whether a railroad revenue-to-variable cost ratio exceeds 180 percent, which must be met before a rate can be challenged, as well as modifying its proposed standard for determining whether trucks offer a cost-competitive alternative to rail for hauling grains and other agricultural products.

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