Farmers suffer due to banner harvest and limited rail space

Last year Canadian grain farmers especially in Alberta saw one of the best harvests on record. It’s done them little good though as transporting grain to market has been virtually impossible lately.

On February 21 provincial Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson summarized the situation and announced he intends to join his political counterparts across the country to pressure change where he believes it’s needed most: the railways.

“At a time when our agriculture community should be reaping the rewards of one of the best crops in recent memory we’re instead struggling just to get our product to market and it’s frustrating that elevators and farmyard bins across Alberta are filled to the rafters literally while empty ships are lined up at ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert waiting for cars to bring them enough grain to fill their cargo holds” said Olson at a recent press conference.

“Higher yields are becoming the new norm in Canada and this is a problem that threatens to come back at us again and again and to be frank our reputation as a reliable provider of food around the world is at risk” he added.

Alberta Agriculture press secretary Julie Crilly explains there are many reasons for the shortage of cars available to ship grain and that the increase in the shipment of oil by rail is not entirely to blame. Albertan farmers are also trying to send more grain this year than usual and 90 per cent of the country’s grain elevators are serviced by one rail company giving that company the final say on when grain is shipped.

Olson met with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on February 25 to discuss Olson’s proposal to impose financial penalties on railways that don’t transport products as promised.

“When producers and grain companies don’t hold up their part of the bargain they feel it immediately in their pocketbooks. There are contract penalties” Olson said. “The same can’t be said for railways when they don’t meet railcar allocation commitments like failing to deliver the specified number of cars to a shipper on time.”

The federal government recently committed $3 million to increase rail efficiency over the next five years. Olson also said the western provinces are working to create a collaborative transportation strategy.