WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) said on Dec. 1 that it has urged the U.S. Congress to prepare to enact emergency legislation to avert a potentially “calamitous” national freight rail strike that could occur as early as 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 6.

President Obama on Oct. 6 established a Presidential Emergency Board and an additional cooling-off period to provide time for the nation’s Class I railroads and unions to reach agreement. Subsequent negotiations resulted in agreements between the carriers and 13 separate unions. One other union — the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees — subsequently agreed to extend the current cooling-off period until Feb. 8, 2012. But at this writing, the two other unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the American Train Dispatchers Association, have not agreed to such an extension of the cooling-off period.

The NGFA’s statement urged Congress to enact such legislation imposing the terms recommended by the Presidential Emergency Board on both rail management and rail unions if a comprehensive agreement is not reached by close of business Dec. 1, or if the two unions that have not agreed yet to an additional cooling-off period fail to do so by then.

“Such a strike — indeed the mere prospect of one as the Dec. 6 deadline approaches — would further imperil an already fragile economic recovery and job market,” the NGFA wrote. “It also would have significant adverse impacts on the grain, feed, grain processing and export sectors represented by our membership, which are highly dependent upon freight rail transportation to efficiently and cost-effectively move raw and processed agricultural products to domestic and international markets.”

The NGFA’s statement noted that freight railroads currently account for approximately 35% of the transport of agricultural products, and that demand for freight rail service often peaks for agricultural products during this post-harvest season. Further, the NGFA noted that with the onset of winter, weather-related restrictions soon will be imposed upon barge traffic on the inland waterways, which traditionally accounts for approximately 12% of the movement of U.S. agricultural products to market.

A national freight rail strike would undermine significantly our industry’s ability to meet domestic and export market demand — U.S. agricultural exports are one of the sole positive contributors to the U.S. balance of trade — and would result in significant adverse financial impacts on a wide array of businesses dependent upon agricultural production,” the NGFA noted. “These include food, animal feed, pet food and biofuel firms and other industry sectors that employ millions of Americans. Such a strike also would depress farm-gate prices to agricultural producers.”