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  • Parent Category: Blog

West Coast Strike May End..Backlog Remains

West Coast Strike May End..Backlog Remains.

Date: February 21, 2015 Update;
(Provided by Soy Transportation Coalition)

Last night, negotiators representing the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (the union that represents West Coast dockworkers) and the Pacific Maritime Association (the association negotiating on behalf of the 29 ports on the West Coast – from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest) reached a tentative agreement to end the labor dispute that has resulted in a major disruption of service along the West Coast.

According to reports, the two sides have agreed to a five year contract. Specific terms on the contract have yet to be disclosed. The agreement must now be ratified by the membership of both parties.

In announcing the decision, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said that ports along the West Coast will resume working "full bore" today (Saturday) in order to clear the backlog in container traffic.

We applaud the two sides for bringing a resolution to this lengthy dispute that has had a punitive impact on U.S. agriculture and the overall economy. We encourage the membership of the ILWU and the PMA to quickly ratify the agreement.

We are hopeful that the severe backlog of cargo along the West Coast can be quickly relieved. More importantly, we are hopeful that our reputation as the world's most reliable supplier of agricultural and other products can be quickly restored. The reality with good reputations is that they take years to accumulate and moments to evaporate. U.S. agriculture remains able to earn the business of our international customers. We are hopeful that our West Coast ports will facilitate this process and no longer be an obstacle to it.

The long term question remains whether it is in the best interest of U.S. agriculture and the overall economy for 13,600 highly compensated dockworkers on the West Coast to have such a pivotal role in our country's ability to export to the global marketplace. The U.S. is fortunate to have a highly efficient, dynamic agricultural sector and international customers with a growing desire and appetite for these products. However, if we truly want to be the world's preeminent exporter of agricultural and other products, we need to have a system of ports, including those dockworkers who service them, committed to this goal as well.

Below is some additional background information that was disseminated earlier this week that may be of interest:
The disruption on the West Coast has not impacted the bulk shipments of agricultural products. 25 percent of soybean exports, 35 percent of wheat exports, and 13 percent of corn exports depart from the Pacific Northwest. The overwhelming majority of those exports are loaded at grain export terminals onto bulk ocean vessels that have a separate agreement with the ILWU. Some of those individual export terminals have their own agreement and contract with the ILWU. Others will band together and have a collective contract with the union. All of them, however, are except from the current friction on the West Coast. As a result, bulk shipments of soybeans and grain have been unaffected. Last year, negotiations between the ILWU and a few grain export terminals in the Pacific Northwest became quite tense. Fortunately a contract for those few terminals was agreed upon in August of 2014.
The disruption of service on the West Coast has been occurring at the terminals that import and export products shipped via container, not bulk. While the vast majority of soybean and grain exports occur via bulk, the tension on the West Coast has imposed hardship on these industries. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 10 percent of soybean and grain exports occur via container. Of this 10 percent, the two main commodities exported via container are distillers dried grains (DDGs) at 50 percent and soybeans at 25 percent. 97 percent of soybean and grain exports via container are destined for Asia – the West Coast being the primary launching point.
While the disruption on the West Coast has imposed harm on the export of soybeans and grain, it has had a tragic impact on the exports of meat, fresh fruit, and a host of other agricultural products. Many of these products, like meat, are domestic customers of soybeans and grain which are in turn exported. The American Meat Institute and the National Pork Producers Council claim that the West Coast delays have costed each industry $40 million per week.

In total, I have seen estimates that the disruption on the West Coast has cost U.S. exporters of agricultural products $1.75 billion each month.
The ILWU has approximately 13,600 longshore, clerk, and foreman workers that have been in negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association. The average salary for an ILWU member is $147,000. On top of that, each member receives $82,000 in annual benefits. So the billions of dollars of harm to the U.S. economy, including agriculture, has largely been precipitated by 13,600 individuals with an average total compensation of $229,000 claiming that they need to be treated more generously.

KEN ROOT, Agricultural Journalist

  • Parent Category: Blog

Build The Pipeline!

Idealism must painfully give way to pragmatism. Fantasy has yield to reality. There has to be realization that we must utilize our logic and ability to survive and thrive. Proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, has become another of the political, emotional and environmental separations that gridlock our country and impact our economy. It is time to lay down our differences and pick up our shovels.

The Bakkan region of North Dakota and Canada is being developed. The technology to produce oil from the shale formations has been propelled by one hundred dollar per barrel oil. Putting it in volumetric and energy terminology, here are 42 gallons in one barrel of oil, which is approximately 5.8 million British Thermal Units (MBtus) or 1,700 kilowatt hours (kWh). That means every gallon of oil is worth about $2.38 at the wellhead. Once you have that price level, it is just a matter of transporting it out that comes into play. This situation is not unlike the fur trappers who went into the frontier to trap beaver or the miners who went after gold. The value was too great to leave it alone and their impact was already made before society started to react to the consequences of their actions. Fur trading and gold mining opened up the continent and accelerated settlement. If there is no pipeline, the oil will still come out whether by truck, train or pack mule.

We built the Alaskan pipeline in the 1970's in one of the greatest technological feats in the history of the world. Can't we build another one forty years later that would be even better? The Alaskan pipeline runs over mountain ranges and across earthquake zones and the biggest spill was on a ship after it had sailed.

Nebraska has put up some big roadblocks to the Keystone XL line and continues to fight internally over the route. This is the modern day challenge of rights of the minority to prevail over the common good for the majority. If we had faced today's sensitivity in the past, there would be no railroads, no dams, no interstate highways and no transmission lines. Visual pollution, as it is called, has stopped many projects just because activists could get the public to side with their view and tie the project up in the court system or get a government agency to deny a permit.

This brings up condemnation of land under Eminent Domain. It is sometimes defined as: "What is good for the country as a whole is constitutional." The spirit of that concept has been abused by government, business and the court system but a narrowly defined version should still remain in effect for this type of project. Proper damages for construction and remediation payment for future liability should be enforced by the government but an individual or a state should not be able to block the path of this pipeline.

It is so hard to be fat, happy and realistic. We have gone to war to keep our foreign oil supply and killed thousands of our military and civilians. We would not have entered the first Gulf War nor would we have invaded Iraq if it had not been for our addiction to oil. Note the atrocities in Africa that we verbally condemned but watched from afar because they didn't have oil so our national interest was not at stake.

For those who want renewable energy, the Bakken region may be the pathway. As we build infrastructure in North Dakota, we open up one of the largest potential wind energy states in the nation. This oil is not going to be cheap, nor last forever, so we can use it to bridge from low mileage vehicles to higher mileage and to hydrogen fuel cells and other technologies because we keep or money and our troops at home while drawing oil from a friendly nation next door.

Projections for the field show that it will produce a million barrels per day through the end of 2029. Part of the field is in the United States and part in Canada. They have the opportunity to sell their oil anywhere they want. Wouldn't it be a sad statement if Canadian oil was shipped east and west for export and not pipelined south to us?

Finally, the political aspect of this controversy is thick as molasses. The Democratic President doesn't want to alienate his environmental constituents or play into the hands of Republicans so he won't endorse the project. The Republicans want to make sure they don't lose their chance at taking over the Senate and the Presidency in 2016 so they will do whatever is required to keep the President from raising his favorable ratings. We need to get beyond politics on this issue because it will bring enough economic good that everyone can share in it.

If we would honestly look back to September 11, 2001, and ask what brought that terrorist attack, it would all come down to our thirst for foreign oil. We spent so much on high tech military dominance that we made ourselves vulnerable to suicide attacks. We are now spending millions of dollars every day to protect oil interests in the Middle East and we are alienating the world by hitting terrorists with drone strikes because we can't lose dominance in oil producing countries. It's time to let Arabs keep their oil and stuff their animosity. Let's shift our supply line straight north. I don't fear attack from Canadians or North Dakotans for buying theirs.

  • Parent Category: Blog

Goin' to Town

Root Zone
April 1, 2014
By Ken Root

I grew up as a farm kid. We lived on a dirt road, a couple of miles from the small town of Luther, Oklahoma. Our work was on the farm every day but on Saturday afternoon, my parents usually went to town to buy groceries and to visit. It was an exciting place for me as it combined the economic and social aspects of the community and was a break from the routine of farm life.
My parents were frugal, particularly my mother. She never shopped without a grocery list that was already totaled to the bottom. Her strict spending was enforced on all of us, dad included. She was not unkind as I would get a nickel to buy candy at the front counter of Melvin's Grocery Store where they had a box to stand on so you could see the small candies lined up on top along with the candy bars in the glass case underneath. I would usually buy penny items; from bazooka bubble gum, to banana chewies, to wax lips that were sweet and could be eaten after showing off with them for a few minutes.

My parents had the need for "staples" when they shopped. They always bought bread, coffee, sugar, salt and flour. Dad bought Prince Albert tobacco and they occasionally purchased canned mackerel and bologna. Melvin would slice the "baloney" for mom and she would fry it and put on sandwiches.
This was post war (WWII) so farmers no longer were rationed on items like tires and sugar. The consumer age was creeping in so it was a lot easier to buy bread than to make it. But indulgences were few; when the total budget for the week was reached, the cart was pushed to the front and the amount was put on a bill that she paid on the first Saturday of the following month.
Out on the street, was a sidewalk full of farmers. Dad was actually young compared to most and he would move from man to man to talk about crops, weather and news of the day. Our farm was called "The Huntington Place" recognizing the first family that owned it after settlement. A son of the original owner was still living and he would talk to dad about the farm we had bought just a few years earlier. "There is a tile line on the north side of your place in the black dirt of that field sitting on the back side," according to Mr. Huntingon. "I helped put that in as a boy." Dad would quiz him on the outlet to the creek as it was well over a quarter mile away. He never remembered but just assured dad there was tile under that wet ground.
Several years later, as I was old enough to help plow, we had two tractors running at the same time. I was on the MT John Deere that had a belly mounted plow and dad was driving the old B John Deere with a two bottom, pull plow from the 1930's. I recalled seeing him look at a puddle of water where bubbles were coming up and then jump off and head to the house. He returned quickly with a shovel and abandoned the tractor that set there popping while he dug. An hour later he whooped and waved the shovel in the air as he had found the end of the tile line about four feet deep and forty feet from the current path of the creek. The hole began to fill with water and the next week we got a back hoe in to dig out a trench so we could extend it to drainage. The line began to run in wet weather and the small field, way up on the other end of the farm, dried appreciably. Mr. Huntington had died by that time, as I remember, but he passed on useful information on those Saturday visits on Main Street.

The merchants realized their big day to get farmers to shop, was Saturday, so they would have a drawing from tickets given out for each dollar purchased in the past week at stores on the one block run that extended on both sides of the street. The five dollar drawing was the first ticket out of the box that was claimed with the matching copy. They drew until there was a winner. The twenty dollar ticket was only drawn once. If there was no winner, it went to forty dollars the next week. This caused a lot of excitement as the number would sometimes get to a hundred dollars of store credit, which was a lot of money at that time. My mother won it once at the twenty dollar level and took her script into the grocery store the next week, paid for her normal groceries, and then asked for the rest in cash.

We had a racial division of the town. Washington School sat on the southeast side and was "separate but equal" for blacks and Luther School, up the hill on the east side, was for whites. There were a few stores and shops that catered to the colored population for haircuts, shoe repair and dry goods. The other stores were integrated but there were social lines that blacks did not cross and a certain demeanor that they maintained. As the 1950's unfolded, the schools began a long and painful integration process. Rights for black people slowly improved and opportunities expanded allowing many to leave the farming community. There were some interesting and colorful members of the African-American community that I regret that I did not get to know except for their names and stations in life.

We were not frozen in time. Each year, divisions of the community faded from stark black and white to softer shades of gray. Farmers took jobs in construction and at Tinker Air Force Base. Blacks also found jobs in Oklahoma City and departed. The schools moved a few more grades together and they began to close down Washington School. Roads improved and more people had cars. Television sets became common and our horizon expanded. Many who took off farm jobs found their original home town turning into a place where they lived on weekends but they had been to town every day so Saturday was no longer special.

The resulting homogeneous mixture really tasted no better to anyone. But economic conditions improved for most and the 1930's depression and 1940's war were clearly over. We integrated more than our racial divide, we laid down the cultural diversity that had defined us since statehood and we haltingly, reluctantly moved into the modern age.

  • Parent Category: Blog

Chinese Corn Espionage Case

Robert MO, a Chinese National, has been charged.  The FBI stopped him and partners from getting out of the country with a large number of corn seed samples that they stole.  Read the 20+ page document link below