‘Unsettled” Harless outlines lingering effects of the pandemic on rail transportation

After discussing lasting effects of the pandemic that cause the economy to be ‘unsettled’, Chairman Harless focused on issues primarily related to the rail transportation industry.

Leading up to the pandemic relations between class I railroads and labor unions were already stressed due to the staff reductions related to precision scheduled railroading (PSR) implementation. As the pandemic unfolded, rail freight was reduced, employees were furloughed, and equipment was parked. “Contract negotiations, at a boiling point over PSR implementations, were further complicated when the pandemic amplified staff shortages,” said Harless. As the economy recovered, unions threatened strikes that could have caused severe harm to the economy. A tentative agreement was reached in September and imposed on Class I railroads and Unions in early December.

Harless stated the rail industry is still not staffed to pre-pandemic levels. Staff shortages coupled with a difficult winter have meant HFCS tanker cars arrived late and were not shipped timely to customers. As a result, the plant had to cut back on production from December to March. “BNSF is still working their way back to the quality of service our plant expects to receive and BNSF expects to provide,” related Harless. He thanked BNSF’s Matt Jensen for his presentation to discuss BNSF’s plans going forward.

Harless then shifted gears to discuss the new partnership in ProGold which appears to be ‘calm and steady’.

“One year ago, we announced that Golden Growers and Cargill had become fifty-fifty owners of the ProGold plant in Wahpeton. That significant event started Golden Growers on a path that holds both possibilities and a promise.”

The possibility is the potential for a long-term joint venture with Cargill. The promise is a set purchase price of Golden Growers share in ProGold for $81 million in late 2026 if a long-term agreement does not occur, explained Harless.

Harless stated that the partnership had been a positive experience with open lines of communication between partners. He highlighted several major capital investments that had occurred to include initial phases of the distributive control system (DCS) conversion, a pre-dryer rebuild, and the germ burner replacement.

“I can say with a level of certainty that the ProGold plant will continue to provide employment and serve our farm community for many years to come.”

“It has been a great honor and privilege to serve on the Golden Growers Board. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Chairman,” concluded Harless.