Winter wheat moving again to Gulf

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Hard red winter wheat exports are flowing again from the Plains states to the battered Gulf Coast for shipment overseas.

Grain export facilities along the Gulf coast suffered little damage from Hurricane Harvey, but the railroad tracks that move wheat to them were more damaged by the storm, said Jay O’Neil, agricultural economist for the International Grains Program at Kansas State University.

Most rail lines have since been inspected and repaired, he said. The storm caused about a four-day stoppage, depending on the port. Some terminals had wheat on hand ready to load onto ships, while others had to wait for rail cars to come in.

Harvey struck Texas on Aug. 25 and heavy rain and flooding followed for days. The Agriculture Department reported Monday that for the week ending Sept. 7 zero wheat was inspected in southern Texas ports, while 82,474 metric tons were inspected at Mississippi River locations.

“Harvey was a considerable disruption to grain exports, Irma not so much because we load grain out of Texas and New Orleans,” O’Neil said.

The hurricane did not affect New Orleans ports, where grain mostly comes down the Mississippi River from Missouri and points east. But the Texas facilities where international exports are loaded onto ships receive their grain by rail from the major wheat producing states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Other states such as South Dakota and Colorado are also significant producers.

This time of year is also particularly busy for hard red winter wheat exports because it is after that the U.S. harvest.

U.S. updates self-driving car rules

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The Trump administration is updating safety guidelines for self-driving cars in an attempt to clear barriers for automakers and tech companies who want to get test vehicles on the road.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new voluntary guidelines Tuesday during a visit to an autonomous vehicle testing facility at the University of Michigan.

The new guidelines update policies issued last fall by the Obama administration, which were also largely voluntary. Under Obama, automakers were asked to follow a 15-point safety assessment before putting test vehicles on the road. The new guidelines reduce that to a 12-point voluntary assessment, and no longer require automakers to consider ethical or privacy issues.

The guidelines also make clear that the federal government — not states — determine whether autonomous vehicles are safe. That is the same guidance the Obama administration gave.

Chao emphasized that the guidelines aren’t meant to force automakers to use certain technology or meet stringent requirements; instead, they’re designed to clarify what autonomous vehicle developers should be considering before they put test cars on the road.

“This is a guidance document,” Chao said. “We want to make sure those who are involved understand how important safety is. We also want to ensure that the innovation and the creativity of our country remain.”