Livestock feed trapped in transportation slowdown

This winter’s hunt for feed grain has been frustrating for British Columbia livestock owners.


“It has been almost impossible to get a steady supply since November,” said Bill Freding, who owns Southern Plus Feedlots near Oliver, B.C.


He knows piles of grain are sitting on the Prairies, but he can’t access them. 


With grain movement from the Prairies to B.C. slowed to a trickle, some feed mills were forced to close because they could not get feed barley, wheat, or grain screenings from west coast terminals. 


“Over Christmas we shut down five times. We just stopped production so we wouldn’t have to wait for product to come in,” said Terry Friesen, a partner at Clearbrook Grain and Milling at Abbotsford, B.C. 


The company processes poultry and dairy feed at two mills and relies on wheat and barley, as well as United States corn and soy for its feed mixes. 


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“At this point we are managing, but it is nothing like it has been in the past,” he said.


Friesen and Freding hope the shortages end in March but with continuing bad weather and other logistical circumstances they are not confident the trains or trucks will start running more quickly any time soon.


Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways say they are doing what they can but have cited the extreme cold and record harvest for the grain backlog issues. Others in the grain industry blame deregulation of the Canadian Wheat Board because it once helped co-ordinate shipments. 


“Animals are going to die if they don’t get fed. There needs to be some priorities and some co-operation,” Friesen said. 


Freding has been able to substitute grain with more home grown silage to feed his animals. He has even resorted to feeding cull apples from nearby fruit packing plants. 


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Typically, they have relied on trucks to bring grain to the province’s Interior but that has posed problems with bad weather this year. 


In the past, truckers delivered grain to his region and then backhauled fertilizer from an Agrium plant at Trail. 


However, Agrium has been sending fertilizer to the Prairies by rail and few truckers are interested in one-way hauls. 


Freding said he has searched for grain within B.C., as well as in the U.S. to no avail.


As well, they can’t get grain screening pellets from the terminals at the West Coast either because the grain is not being handled even though there are 30 to 40 ships at the port waiting for deliveries.


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“This costs the whole economy a lot of money,” he said.