SIOUX FALLS — South Dakota ag leaders are satisfied with the work done in Washington on rail issues.
Those leaders expressed that satisfaction to U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., on Monday when the senator spoke a to a group of about 10 ag group leaders during a roundtable event at the headquarters of the South Dakota Corn Council and the South Dakota Corn Growers Association in Sioux Falls.
"The impact of the problems we had a couple of years ago were pretty widely felt, and it got more people's attention," Thune said. "I think this time people have recognized that we've done a good job of pointing out some of the flaws that (the Surface Transportation Board) has, and I think the shipper community is more engaged. We have the folks in this room for bringing the pressure and the impetus to do something."
Redfield Energy CEO Tom Hitchcock, who leads a dry mill ethanol plant near Redfield, told Thune that the differences in rail service is drastically improved compared to the end of 2013 and early 2014. The plant produces more than 200,000 tons of modified wet and dried distillers grain, which is sold to local and West Coast markets.
"From our perspective, the service is night and day with the railroads," Hitchcock said. This act, I know it's not the nicest thing that the railroad wants, but we're not going to be fighting as hard now. We're able to operate our plant at 100 percent and we're going to crush as much corn as we can, and that's all positive."
Thune is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 808, which is known as the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015. That bill, which had bipartisan support, was passed June 18 through the Senate by unanimous consent. The bill now waits to get through the House, and Thune said he's hopeful the reauthorization can be passed—something that hasn't happened since 1998.