Fischer on Potential Rail Strike & Impact on Ag Economy

Fischer on Potential Rail Strike & Impact on Ag Economy
September 14th, 2022 | U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) delivered a floor speech highlighting the severe impact a potential rail shutdown later this week would have on the agriculture sector, the U.S. economy, and global food security.

Click the image above to watch video of Sen. Fischer’s remarks

A full copy of Sen. Fischer’s remarks as prepared for delivery is below: 

M. President.

Agriculture is a critical part of Nebraska’s economy.

It accounts for roughly $25.7 billion of Nebraska’s gross state product. That’s a little less than a quarter of our state’s overall GDP. Nearly one in four jobs in the state are tied to agriculture.

That economic output is important. Because thanks to states like Nebraska, hard-working family farmers and ranchers produce a wide variety of products that keep our grocery stores stocked and help to feed the world. 

But our nation’s agricultural bounty doesn’t do anyone much good if it can’t get to market.

That’s where our complex transportation and infrastructure system comes into play.

The railroad industry, in particular, has a big role in bringing agricultural products to locations across the United States. That includes ports, where they can then be shipped to locations around the world.

Whether its grain or soybeans, railroads provide the means to affordably move thousands of tons of goods to where they need to go. It’s estimated that rail delivers 1.6 million carloads of agricultural products a year.

That’s why I am deeply concerned about the potential for a rail shutdown later this week.

I think it’s important that people understand what kind of economic impact such a shutdown would have and how it would upend our nation’s agricultural sector.

The consequences would be devastating.

When agricultural products can’t be transported, there will be price hikes and shortages.

Our international exports of commodities like corn, soy, wheat, of which a large share move by rail, will fall dramatically.

Fertilizer prices – an already expensive input cost due to inflation – will further skyrocket. The mere prospect of a shutdown on Friday means fertilizer and other hazardous materials have already started to be removed from the rail networks on September 12th.

Biofuel plants could be forced to scale down operations or completely shut down.

I would also point out that we have harvest coming up in Nebraska. Family farmers in my state, many of whom are grappling with rapidly rising input costs, need a good harvest season.

If rail service isn’t feasible, that possibility could go out the window. Grain elevators, for example, could run out storage and be unable to accept additional commodities.

Family farmers and ranchers will lose critical revenue streams.

The bottom line is if rail shuts down, our entire agricultural system shuts down. It’s that simple.

All of this economic chaos would come on top of extreme inflation. Today’s numbers put grocery prices up 13.5% over last year. Think about the toll this out-of-control inflation is taking on our working-class families.

Then there’s the international turmoil. Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine has dramatically curtailed the flow of grain, which in turn has exacerbated food insecurity in Africa and the Middle East. And the war has also further strained the fertilizer supply chain.

All of this is to say – the stakes of these rail negations couldn’t be higher.

9 of the 12 labor unions in the rail sector have been able to utilize the President Emergency Board recommendations to come to an agreement. I’d note that the board is composed of neutral, impartial individuals appointed by the President.

Their recommendations are widely seen as benefiting all parties.

It’s critical that the remaining labor unions and the rail industry use those recommendations to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

Our entire agricultural system is at stake here. The economic welfare of the American people is at stake here. And global food security is at stake here.

Thank you. I yield the floor.

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