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Sen. Franken talks rail delays, sugar imports in East Grand Forks

Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said Tuesday in East Grand Forks that he’ll do what he can to help Red River Valley sugar beet growers hurt by slow rail service and imports of subsidized Mexican sugar.

He promised to work with other members of the Minnesota and North Dakota Congressional delegations to try to find solutions.

Franken met with leaders of American Crystal Sugar Co. and the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. The Red River Valley is the nation’s leading sugar beet producing area.

His meeting with sugar officials was closed to the public and news media. But Franken talked briefly with reporters after the meeting.

He called subsidized Mexican sugar, which has pushed down U.S. sugar prices to their lowest levels since the 1980s, “unfair competition.”

Slow rail service is “affecting farmers, utilities and everyone in the valley and Minnesota,” he said.

The slow service has forced American Crystal to slow production at three of its five factories.

Booming oil production in the Bakken formation in western North Dakota has tied up a growing amount of rail resources, Franken said.

BNSF has said it’s investing a record $5 billion in infrastructure this year, with $900 million going for improvements along the railroad’s northern corridor.

Infrastructure improvements will take time, however, said Paul Rutherford, a Euclid, Minn., farmer and president of the Sugarbeet Growers.

That raises the question of what can be done to improve rail service in the short term, Franken said. 

“The Surface Transportation Board did the right thing today by requiring the railroad industry to provide answers and soon,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement.