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When it’s oil vs. food, we burn

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Selling agricultural commodities is a kind of dance, with time limits. Once the sale is consummated, the clock starts. The buyer needs it on time, because customers don’t pay for empty shelves. Food is often perishable — faster is fresher, and fresher is better. Then, with bulk commodities like grain, loaded on ships and sent to the far corners of the globe, there are schedules to meet, and promises to keep. The owners of ships don’t like to see them sitting around waiting for the cargo. Delays due to a shortage of rail cars and trucks means trouble and financial losses.

At this point someone clever might say time is money, because it is. But crude oil is money, too. People want it as much as cherries or apples or wheat, probably more, and they don’t want to wait. Shippers of crude oil are trying to accommodate them. Railroads are jumping into the new oil shipping business in a big way — 434,000 carloads in 2013, up 83 percent in a year. Apples, cherries and soft white winter wheat will have to wait.

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