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Agriculture industry concerned over the closing of rail lines to Mexico

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Kevin Bessler

(The Center Square) – With the ongoing migrant border crisis affecting rail traffic, agriculture officials are worried about future rail line closings.

Grains are once again moving into Mexico after a multi-day closure of two important rail lines, but officials say it could take months to recover.

Rail traffic between the U.S. and Mexico at two Texas crossings closed December 18 so that staff at those sites could be relocated to deal with migrants trying to enter the country.

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According to IL Corn, Mexico is the top export destination for U.S. corn farmers and much of that U.S. corn is grown in Illinois. In 2023, about 64 percent of all corn shipments to Mexico were by rail. Of that total, shipments originating in Illinois represent 41 percent of all rail movements of corn to Mexico. Illinois exports more grain by train than any other state.

“They have historically been a top trade partner and destination for U.S. corn and this year in particular the sales have been outpacing the 5-year average and the previous year,” said Collin Watters, director of Exports and Logistics with the Illinois Corn Association.

Watters said IL Corn issued a letter to multiple Illinois lawmakers expressing concern over the closed rail crossings.

A second concern is for Mexican livestock. Those farms are so integrated into the supply chain system that they rely upon “just-in-time” deliveries. An unplanned elimination of U.S. corn supply leaves Mexican livestock farmers without feed for their animals.

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Mexico was the second-largest export market in 2022 with $28.5 billion in agricultural sales, and each day the crossings are closed results in an estimated one million bushels of grain exports lost.

Other key products that move through the two crossings include automotive parts and complete vehicles, consumer goods, chemicals and more.

Kansas U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall told Fox Business that the diversion of up to 30 customs inspectors from the railroads isn't going to solve the migrant crisis, and blamed President Joe Biden for loosening restrictions on asylum and granting immigrants "parole" that allows them leave once they have been processed.

Union Pacific also warned that any port-of-entry shutdowns would impact "goods critical to the U.S. economy."