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Michigan freight plan projecting leaps in moving goods to 2040

LANSING, Mich. — State officials have released the Michigan Freight Plan (MFP), a document meant to provide ideas to help move the state’s freight transportation system forward.

According to the plan document, released in August by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDT), each state is required to develop a plan under the 2015 federal surface transportation authorization bill, known as FAST, or Fixing America’s Surface Transportation.

The document lays out statistics that make clear the importance of a good freight transportation system for agriculture. The MFP defines freight as any transportation of goods for commercial purposes and highlights air, rail, highway and waterborne freight. It also discusses logistics, defined as the “activities involved in the management of how and where freight moves.”

The importance of rail transport was underscored late last month when the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan (ALM) complained about the quality of CSX rail services, especially as harvest season nears for many Michigan commodities. ALM complained about rail delays and uncertainty, along with increased rail costs, saying these issues are affecting farmers and agribusinesses in Michigan as well as throughout the nation.

“Rail service has deteriorated throughout the summer, creating headaches across the agricultural supply chain,” said Gail Frahm, executive director of the Michigan Soybean Assoc. “In addition, increases in cost to transport products are ultimately passed on to farmers, reducing the income those farmers receive from their crops.”

According to the statement, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) sent letters to CSX over the summer pressing it to respond to ongoing delays. In August agricultural organizations sent a letter to the STB praising it for its oversight and asking for additional actions to hold the railroad firm accountable.

“The STB’s work to resolve rail delays is particularly important as we approach harvest in Michigan,” said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Assoc. (MABA). “Rail transportation from CSX is critical to move the crop in a timely manner, and right now, grain handlers don’t know whether they can count on trains.

“The financial impact could be significant if there are additional delays in rail service.”

According to the MFP report, the southern half of the Lower Peninsula (L.P.) is home to the majority of productive agricultural land in Michigan. There also are large orchard and vineyard areas along the Lake Michigan shore and agricultural activity in the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.).

According to the MFP, Gov. Rick Snyder has stated his goal is to double Michigan’s agriculture exports and increase the economic impact of the agriculture industry. The state’s initiatives, coupled with a trend of agricultural activity moving northward in Michigan, have placed additional emphasis on the quality of transportation infrastructure in the Thumb region, the Saginaw Bay Region, the northern L.P. and throughout south-central Michigan.

According to MABA, the movement of agricultural activity north has raised concerns about the adequacy of transportation resources in the northern L.P. and U.P. The concerns about water and rail transport are even more important, MABA said, due to the fact that roads in the northern L.P. tend to be inadequate compared to the southern portion of the state.

Agricultural products are typically first shipped from rural areas and on local roads, followed by routes along state trunk lines while en route to production, storage and market facilities.

According to the MFP, movement of agricultural commodities and goods by truck in and through Michigan from 2014 to 2040 is expected to increase 25 percent, from 38.6 million tons in 2014 to 48.3 million in 2040. During this same time frame the movement of agricultural commodities and goods by water in and through Michigan is expected to increase 161 percent, from 12,545 tons in 2014 to 32,818 in 2040.

Also, rail freight movement of agricultural goods and commodities in and through Michigan is expected to increase 15.7 percent, from 4 million tons in 2014 to 4.8 million in 2040. Finally, air transport of ag goods and commodities in Michigan is expected to increase 66 percent, from 2,456 tons in 2014 to 4,079 in 2040.

A copy of the Michigan Freight Plan is available online using the search tool at the MDT website, at