By MATTHEW WEAVER
A Burley, Idaho, wheat farmer will represent agriculture's interests on a panel that advises the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.
Wayne Hurst, a former National Association of Wheat Growers president, was recently appointed to the Railroad Shipper Transportation Advisory Council by Daniel Elliott III, chairman of the transportation board.
The council provides advice on regulatory, policy and legislative matters to the STB chairman, the secretary of Transportation and Senate and House transportation committees.
Hurst has worked as a wheat representative on transportation issues, testifying before the STB on several occasions.
Hurst serves a three-year term.
"Farmers and agriculture make up a large part of the freight moved by our nation's railroads," Hurst said. "We rely heavily on them to get our crops to market and bring in some of our inputs, like fertilizer."
Hurst said he's seen what a lack of service does to him and his neighbors. High rail rates remain an issue, he said.
"Service seems to have improved," Hurst said. "There's still problems, but overall, the railroads have improved their service."
Hurst said excess freight rates cost him thousands of dollars every year.
"We're happy to pay a reasonable rate for the service we receive, but most of us pay tens of thousands of dollars quite often per family farm to ship our goods," he said.
Hurst wants to see service continue at the same level or improve, and for the STB to focus on rail rates.
"When we produce something, it's of no value until it's shipped," Hurst said. "We have to ship a majority of what we produce. The railroads are very important to our business and to the health of rural communities."
The STB is charged with ensuring railroads are financially successful and protecting the welfare of captive shippers, Hurst said. Captive shippers have access to only one railroad and no other economic alternatives.
"Years ago the railroads were struggling financially," he said. "Most of us in rural America are captive, and the railroads are doing very well. They're the fifth most-profitable industry right now in the country, along with the Microsofts and oil and gas industries."
Hurst said the current board seems more willing to listen to concerns than previous boards.
"There's great opportunities to make some progress here, and that's what I'll be trying to do," he said.
Hurst is "honored and humbled" by the opportunity.
"I'll be there to listen and work together," he said. "I feel obligated to speak for those I represent."
Hurst welcomes feedback from all commodities with concerns or ideas.
"I'm here to listen and I would be anxious to convey problems and solutions to this council," he said.
The council's next meeting is May 21-22 in Washington, D.C.