Saskatchewan’s premier says the grain transportation quagmire is causing lost sales in Asia and potentially missed opportunities for international investment in the province.
“The situation is increasingly serious,” Brad Wall told reporters during a Jan. 22 scrum at the legislative building in Regina.
“There is certainly more and more concern every day in terms of when we can move the grain to the ports.”
Thirty-seven ships were waiting to be loaded with grain at the Port of Vancouver at the time he made his comments.
“The port itself is probably half capacity and yet we have the elevator system plugged and there’s a car issue.”
It will be the most important item on the agenda when Wall meets with his Alberta and British Columbia counterparts in March as part of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement.
While participating in a trade mission to Southeast Asia last fall, Wall spoke to a major wheat miller from the Philippines who told him he no longer buys wheat from Canada during December and January because of concerns it won’t arrive when needed.
The conversation made such an impression on Wall that he had a chat with prime minister Stephen Harper about the miller’s concerns when he returned.
Wall also heard from a company planning to build a pulse crop handling facility near Hanley, Sask.
Company executives told him they were happy with the chosen location, the province’s business climate and the crop mix of area farmers. However, they had serious reservations about rail service.
“They were moving ahead, doing the planning, doing the due diligence and found out from the rail companies that they simply couldn’t get the spots they needed,” Wall said.
He said the project is still on the books, but it highlights how transportation bottlenecks are hampering Saskatchewan’s ability to expand its agriculture sector.
Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, isn’t surprised to hear customers complaining about Canada’s unreliable rail service.
“Having worked in export market development for a number of years, it’s certainly something we hear and have heard from customers,” he said.
“I would imagine that’s even larger in a year like this when we have this large of a crop to move.”