Farmers and advocacy groups are urging the federal government to take action to resolve shipping delays and trade disputes so grain can move to the market.
According to press releases and news stories, the speed of grain shipments across the province has slowed to a crawl, and little has been done to resolve the situation.
Railway bottlenecks are preventing products from Saskatchewan’s farmers from getting to market. Commentators are comparing it to the 2013-2014 year when producers dealt with similar problems.
“I have spoken with some producers who haven’t moved any grain since harvest and this is very concerning,” said Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) President Ray Orb, “The situation is eerily reminiscent of the backlog experienced in 2013-14 which was a disaster for producers. Every winter we urge the railways to move as much grain as they can to avoid damaging rural municipal infrastructure, yet almost every winter the railways have issues and grain is backlogged until spring.”
But some critics say there are solutions if there is the political will. Bill C-49 is working its way through the senate. Advocates say the legislation, which amends the Transportation Act, will help producers in their quest to hold rail operators accountable.
“The rail freight system for grain does not operate as a competitive marketplace,” Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) president Todd Lewis told senators.
“Nearly all our local delivery points are serviced by a single rail carrier. Data shows that the railway serving corridors in the northern grain belt has been consistently unable to supply more than 70 per cent of car orders in the current shipping season.”
According to APAS, Bill C-49 would enhance the ability of famers to monitor rail carriers and allow those carriers to be penalized if they don’t meet their obligations.
“There is an urgent need for government regulation and policy to ensure our transportation system meets the current and future needs of our agricultural producers,” Lewis said. He also called for further amendments.
Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) president Jeff Nielson also spoke in favour of the legislation. GGC said the legislation will create reciprocal penalties, a clear definition of what adequate and suitable service entails and increased transparency.
“Any costs associated with delivery delays inevitably roll down to me, the farmer,” said Warren Sekulic, GGC Director.
“I plan my grain deliveries out prudently so I can meet my payments and cancelled car orders and poor service from the railways have a direct impact on my bottom line. Farmers need C-49 now so we can stay in business.”
While industry groups are calling for C-49 to pass, SARM would also like to see some trade issues with India solved by the federal government. India has imposed high tariffs on pulse crops.