Moving Grain: USDA Participates in Ex Parte Communications with STB Members

    Photo by Ken Hammond, USDA

    USDA Participates in Ex Parte Communications with STB Members

    On June 25, USDA met with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in response to STB’s invitation for additional stakeholder input on rate review options.

    Specifically, USDA weighed in on a proposed new procedure (Final Offer Rate Review (Docket Ex Parte 755)) for challenging the reasonableness of railroad rates in smaller cases. In the meetings with STB, USDA emphasized the need for further change, while expressing appreciation for the steps the Board had already taken.

    USDA suggested the Board incorporate a measure of price markups (such as a “competitive benchmark”) to determine market dominance. USDA also suggested reducing STB’s proposed threshold distance to determine the presence of effective truck competition.

    For more details, visit USDA’s archive of STB comments.

    FMCSA To Provide Flexibility for Random Drug Testing

    Because States’ different reopening timetables (from COVID-19 closures) cause different disruptions, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will exercise case-by-case discretion about whether or not to enforce its minimum annual percentage random drug-testing rates.

    Grain News on AgFax

    The agency will also decide, case by case, whether to enforce its requirement for testing dates to be spread throughout the calendar year. For calendar year 2020, the standard required driver selection rates remain at 50 percent of employers’ average number of driver positions for controlled-substance testing and 10 percent for random alcohol testing.

    Late last year, FMCSA increased the annual random selection rate for drug testing from 25 percent to 50 percent. To be considered for an exemption, carriers must document in writing their reasons for noncompliance. FMCSA stressed the current random testing requirements are not suspended, and employers who can meet them must continue to do so.

    The enforcement change applies to 2020, but FMCA may also exercise discretion in motor carrier investigations occurring in 2021.

    ADOT Extends Increased Truck Weight Limits Through July 30

    The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has extended the temporary higher weight limits for commercial trucks hauling critical supplies and goods during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary measure, previously extended to June 30, will now remain in effect until July 30.

    In light of the national emergency declaration, and to correspond with the temporary increase in truck weights by neighboring States in April, ADOT raised the gross weight limit for commercial vehicles to 90,000 pounds up from 80,000 pounds, without the need for an overweight permit.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending June 25, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 21.6 million metric tons (mmt). This represented a 2-percent decrease in outstanding sales from the same time last year.

    Net corn export sales were 0.361 mmt, down 22 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 0.242 mmt, down 60 percent from the previous week. Net wheat export sales were 0.414 mmt, down 20 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 19,303 grain carloads during the week ending June 27. This was a 10-percent decrease from the previous week, 8 percent less than last year, and 13 percent lower than the 3-year average.

    Average July shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $38 above tariff for the week ending July 2. This was $9 more than last week and $4 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending July 4, barge grain movements totaled 658,856 tons. This was 24 percent less than the previous week and 16 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending July 4, 420 grain barges moved down river—147 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 635 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 1 percent more than the previous week.


    For the week ending July 2, 33 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the U.S. Gulf—27 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting July 3), 42 vessels were expected to be loaded—2 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of July 2, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $39.50. This was 1 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $20.50 per mt, unchanged from the previous week.


    For the week ending July 6, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 0.7 cents from the previous week to $2.437 per gallon, 61.8 cents below the same week last year.

    Full report.

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