Agriculture is South Dakota's number one industry. It generates over $21 billion in annual economic development and employs more than 122,000 South Dakotans.
Some of the success of South Dakota's agricultural development is owed to the industry's ability to ship products to and from South Dakota via rail. Rail service allows South Dakota products to enter regional and global markets. When our products are shipped by rail, it saves money for producers and consumers.
Across the state agriculture shippers are experiencing a shortage of rail cars. This shortage is caused by several factors: the cold long winter we have experienced across the Midwest, the influx of traffic to support the Bakken, the record 2013 harvest, and delays caused by construction on the rail system outside the state.
I am very concerned about this problem because our agriculture economy is highly dependent on the state's commodities getting to the market.
Over the last few weeks my staff have been communicating with representatives of the Burlington, Northern & Santa Fe Railroad, the Canadian Pacific and the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad to urge them to do whatever is possible to restore service to typical levels. We have also ensured the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates railroads, is aware. Next week the Surface Transportation Board is conducting a hearing about this issue. I will be submitting testimony for the Board to consider and I have asked Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch to attend the hearing and provide additional testimony about the how the issue is affecting South Dakota.
Much of what has caused the shortage is out of our control. Still, we must do everything possible to find solutions. Our agricultural producers and shippers need resolution of this situation.