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ND shipping to Port of Vancouver

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The first shipments under a new agreement to send agricultural commodities from North Dakota to the West Coast arrived recently.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The first shipments under a new agreement to send agricultural commodities from North Dakota to the West Coast arrived recently.

The two test shipments under the pact between the state of North Dakota and the Port of Vancouver in Washington consisted of AGT Food and Ingredients loading split green peas, according to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

The agreement, announced in August, was billed as one way state officials are trying to alleviate rail shipping delays for producers. The railcars already come into North Dakota with steel pipes and other supplies, but often return empty, according to the port.

The first shipments represented a test run of the new agreement. Tom Bodine, the North Dakota deputy agriculture commissioner, says staff from that office will meet with port officials before meeting with companies to gauge their interest in using the service.

"We're trying to get all the logistics down, see how it works, see what works, so we can make this an efficient service for everybody," says Port of Vancouver USA spokeswoman Abbi Russell.

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The port budgeted for around 70 to 80 rail cars to be leased at one time for the dedicated rail service, Russell says.

Pete Hanebutt, director of public policy at the North Dakota Farm Bureau, says it remains to be seen how the agreement might play out in the long term.

"Obviously, anything that is increasing our opportunity to ship product to market and to maximize our ability to use the limited rail system, considering all the strains that are on the system, is all good for agriculture," he adds.

Oil-by-rail impact

Farmers have been frustrated by long waits for train cars, which many blame on more oil being transported by trains.

According to data provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., BNSF reported 3,334 outstanding grain cars in North Dakota between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, down from 3,704 a few weeks before. Canadian Pacific's number of outstanding cars increased from 1,801 in early October to 2,324 between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1.

BNSF planned to spend $400 million this year to increase capacity and improve its network in North Dakota.

Bodine doesn't expect the port agreement to alleviate all of the train car problems.

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"This isn't the end-all answer to it, but it's just one form of transportation that we can add to the service," he says.

In a press release, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says the agreement will "provide more marketing opportunities for our identity-based preserved and specialty crop products, such as peas, lentils, dry beans and other commodities, to be transloaded and containerized."

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