Following a Surface Transportation Board hearing earlier this month regarding sluggish rail deliveries of fertilizer to the Dakotas and surrounding areas, both the Canadian Pacific and BNSF rail companies have agreed to a federal directive to provide weekly status reports on future fertilizer deliveries.
The companies were also required to provide an action plan for addressing the delays by Friday.
The slow deliveries, driven by a variety of factors including weather, increased oil exports from the Bakken, construction and delays in neighboring states, have caused concern that fertilizer supplies would run low enough to impede spring planting.
In its outline for improvement last week, BNSF said it would allow rapid loading and unloading of fertilizer for eligible customers, add an additional shuttle set into fertilizer service, better manage crew availability and ensure accurate estimated time of arrivals so facilities can unload and load faster.
Canadian Pacific told the Surface Transportation Board on Friday that it is committed to moving "fertilizer and plant nutrients as they are presented to the railroad," the Associated Press reported.
As of Thursday, BNSF Ag Product Group John Miller said rail deliveries were still running an average of 25.4 days late in North Dakota, 31.1 days late in Montana, 20.9 days late in Minnesota and 28.6 days in South Dakota.
Miller added, however, that there was a 17% improvement this week in the 7-day delivery average of fertilizer trains. He expects to see gradual, steady improvement.
"We recognize the need to improve our fertilizer shipments with planting season around the corner in much of the interior," Miller said in podcast update. "We have outlined our plans to increase velocity and have filed those plans with the Surface Transportation Board."
Weekly status reports as part of the Surface Transportation Board's increased oversight will begin on April 25.
As part of these status reports, the STB said CP and BNSF will provide fertilizer delivery data by state, indicating the number of cars, shipped or received, which are billed to agricultural destinations as well as the number of cars placed during each prior week.
CP and BNSF will also be directed to include actual performance versus trip plan data for fertilizer shipments, STB's directive said.
"This directive is intended to focus each carrier's attention on these very time-sensitive deliveries while the carriers simultaneously work to address the extensive service and car supply issues for all commodities and to get those commodities moving on the rail network," the Surface Transportation Board's decision said.
"Farmers have faced prolonged delays in transporting agricultural commodities by BNSF and CP," said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. "This action will ensure timely delivery of much-needed fertilizer for farmers in the upper Midwest."
Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a press statement that he was encouraged by the progress, but still concerned about shipments in general.
"While this may help farmers get the fertilizer they need, there are still unacceptable delays for shipping grain and other products to market," he said.