Saskatchewan farm group responds to rail strike vote as seeding gets underway

APAS Photo. APAS vice-president Bill Prybylski.

Michael Joel-Hansen

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) is weighing in on a possible rail disruption as farmers are getting into the fields to begin seeding.

On May 1 the Teamsters Rail Conference, which represents workers at both Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC), announced its members voted over 95 per cent in favour of strike action.

The earliest workers could walk off the job is May 22. The union said including language in contracts to address worker fatigue is a central issue in the dispute.

Bill Prybylski, a vice president with APAS who farms in the Yorkton area, said any disruption in rail service is a concern for farmers.

“The only way we can generate revenue is by selling grain. If the railroads aren’t shipping that grain, producers will be forced to borrow more money to pay for their inputs,” he said.

Prybylski added it’s especially costly for producers to borrow now given the current interest rates, which would add more costs.

While the primary worry about a rail disruption is the impact it could have on grain movement, Prybylski said a stoppage in service could also affect producers as they get ready to seed their crops. Specifically, Prybylski said it could disrupt the delivery of fertilizer.

“It could effect inputs coming in, absolutely.”

Prybylski said APAS has been making its concerns known to the federal government, the railways and the union to push for a resolution to the dispute.

While APAS is concerned about the immediate financial impacts, Prybylski said there are also concerns about what such a disruption could mean in the long term when it comes to Canada being considered a reliable market for grain buyers.

“Down the road it could be a long-lasting effect; we certainly hope that that isn’t the case and that things will normalize before it comes to that.”

Prybylski said recent rains have been helpful for farmers in some areas, but producers in Saskatchewan’s southwest continue to experience dry conditions caused by a lengthy period of drought.

In the area where Prybylski farms in the province’s east central region, soil moisture conditions have been good. He added the recent rains have brought some optimism for farmers but more moisture will be needed for producers to have a good year.

“It’s going to take more than one rain event to grow a crop, for sure.”