Several industry organizations asked Congress to impose a tentative contract between railroad unions and freight carriers to avoid a possible strike, with Congress taking subsequent action. The U.S. Senate must still approve of these actions passed by the House of Representatives, and it needs to be signed by President Biden.

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), released the following statement before Congress took action.

“On behalf of companies throughout the U.S. dairy industry, the International Dairy Foods Association supports President Biden’s request of Congress to step in and negotiate an agreement between rail carriers and their employees that protects our nation’s food and economic security. A rail strike would devastate our nation’s dairy industry, which employs more than 3.3 million Americans and relies on rail carriers to move nutritious, wholesome, and perishable dairy products to destinations throughout the country and to ports for export around the world. Congress must act without delay to keep our nation’s food supply chain intact.”

Added NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern before Congress took action: “Congress needs to take immediate action to avert a nationwide rail strike that would damage dairy producers and deprive consumers of critical nutrition. Dairy is a 24/7 industry producing a highly perishable commodity. Any disruption of national transit networks not only keeps products from moving efficiently to markets; it deprives farmers and their processing cooperatives of everything from the feed they need for their animals to the supplies needed to continue production."

Edge Dairy Cooperative President Brody Stapel, president of the cooperative, issued the following statement after the passage of the legislation by the House of Representatives that prevents a nationwide rail strike.

“Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and our members are pleased Congress recognizes the urgent need for action to prevent a nationwide rail shutdown. Our farmers depend on our nation’s railroad systems for transportation of feed, fuel, fertilizer and other inputs to successfully produce food for our communities, as well as transport our final products. We appreciate the leadership the House of Representatives has exhibited in working to maintain our national food supply chain and urge the Senate to act swiftly.”

According to IDFA, based on industry estimates, as much as 10% of dairy products are moving by rail, including butter, powders, and cheese. If a rail stoppage were to occur, we anticipate the following impacts to our industry to occur in short order:

  • An IDFA member estimates it would take them 10-14 days to recuperate any lost costs or shipping for every day there is a rail strike.
  • Most bulk commodities (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) move by rail. Fall harvest is well under way, leaving the industry exposed at a critical time.
  • Increased demand for trucking and truck drivers and there is not sufficient trucking equipment or drivers at this time. Increased truck movement will cause further congestion at weigh stations, borders and other bottlenecks.
  • A shortage of chemicals used in manufacturing, processing, and for food safety and sanitation protocols by dairy and other food companies.
  • Further reduction in the availability of packaging materials.
  • A shortage of a variety of ingredients used in food manufacturing. 
  • More pressure on animal feed for dairy operations, especially those on the West coast already struggling to access feed due to severe drought. Some industry analysts estimate as much as 50% or more of animal feed is moving by rail to the Western United States.