It’s not an issue that’s as prominent on the front pages as it probably should be, notes Drayton-Devon MLA Mark Smith.
What problem is that, you ask?
The issue of railway companies not getting farm product, specifically grain, to port on a reliable basis.
Smith, who represents a large area of the County of Wetaskiwin, said the low delivery grain rates are blamed on railway transport issues. “There’s a severe shortage of rail cars,” said Smith by phone Mar. 9
“If pipelines are critical to the oil industry, then grain cars are critical to farmers.”
Many reports have come out over the past several weeks about the deplorable state of grain shipping in western Canada and even the federal government contacted the largest rail companies in Canada, CP Rail and CN Rail, through a letter publicized Mar. 6.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Transport Minister Marc Garneau claimed to be forwarding concerns from a variety of sectors about the plodding nature of grain delivery. The letter stated producers and port officials were alarmed about “the lack of rail cars, the slow turnaround time of trains, and the reduced pace of rail movements from grain elevators to ports…Railway performance has been disappointing.
“We understand that there have been challenges for the railways this year, including a larger than expected grain crop and adverse weather conditions, but it is imperative that everything be done to ensure the efficient movement of grain and other commodities,” noted the two ministers in their letter.
Smith said rail company’s transport issues resulted in grain being trapped in western Canada. He stated farmers have done their part by growing and delivering grain, customers want it but the product is not getting to tidewater.
Smith said issues like this send a terrible message to the rest of the world that Canada can’t be depended on to get its resources to customers.
He also noted that farmers who’ve shelled out to grow and deliver their crops are waiting to get paid and watching their bills pile up while grain sits in western Canada because there aren’t enough grain cars.
“It’s created a huge backlog,” said Smith. “Grain elevators are filling up.”
The MLA also noted agriculture is a competitive worldwide industry and every country is fighting for market share. Issues like the low grain delivery rate reduce international confidence and threaten Canadian producer’s market share.
In a statement released on Mar. 7 CN Rail “apologize(s) for not meeting the expectations of our grain customers, nor our own high standards.”
The same day, CP Rail blamed many of the backlog problems on bad weather.