Backlog a priority | Brad Wall says the province depends on exports and wants immediate action to improve rail service
Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has thrown his support behind recently announced federal initiatives aimed at improving rail service for agricultural shippers.
Wall told the 2014 Saskatchewan Agriculture Trade Summit in Sask-atoon that a record harvest is straining the transportation system.
He said the Saskatchewan government supports Ottawa’s efforts to enhance the grain-monitoring program and increase the amount of information that railways are required to provide on grain movement and car spotting performance.
However, more action is needed to clear up a backlog of grain that is waiting to be moved to port from western Canadian farms and prairie terminals, he added.
“The success and growth of our agriculture industry and province depends on getting our products to port to be shipped throughout the world,” Wall said.
“We fully support the federal government in any measures they can take to address this situation (and) … we recognize efforts are underway to develop a long-term plan for the future, as we anticipate these larger crops will become the norm.
“However, further action is necessary to clear up the immediate backlog as soon as possible. We will continue to work to find a solution with stakeholders, including the federal government, grain companies, railways and port authorities.”
Insufficient grain movement and railway performance have emerged as key issues this winter as farmers and grain companies attempt to market last year’s record harvest.
Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz recently announced that Ottawa will support steps proposed by the Crop Logistics Working Group aimed at improving the performance of the crop supply chain.
Among other measures, the Grain Monitoring Program will be ex-panded, new railway performance measurements will be implemented and railways will be required to supply performance data more frequently.
The new reporting requirements will produce weekly data on:
- Railway order fulfillment
- Weekly car orders placed by grain companies
- Weekly car orders accepted by railways
- Weekly car orders actually filled by railways
- Weekly cancellations of orders
Changes to the grain monitoring program will also require railways to provide:
- Expanded weekly data on hopper car fleet size in service
- Weekly hopper car unloads by port
- Hopper car arrivals, dwell times and unload times at port
- Western Canadian grain traffic volumes, loaded transit times and cycle times to various destinations
- U.S. grain traffic to western Canadian destinations
- Western Canadian grain traffic shipped to port in containers
Meanwhile, prairie farm groups continue to apply pressure on Ottawa to take steps aimed at improving rail service for agricultural shippers.
The Alberta Federation of Agriculture, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers have requested a meeting with federal transport minister Lisa Raitt to discuss rail service, grain delivery bottlenecks and shortcomings of the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, which Parliament passed last summer.
And in Ottawa, CropLife Canada president Ted Menzies, who is a former Alberta farmer and Conservative cabinet minister, told members of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association that supply chain deficiencies are having a major impact on Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of agricultural products.
“The economic leaders in this country need to understand that this is going to be a huge impact to us,” Menzies told the organization’s annual convention in Ottawa Feb. 4.
“Our overall credibility of being a reliable supplier of food products is on the line.”
Roxane Marchand, a Transport Canada spokesperson, told media that the government continues to monitor the effectiveness of the freight service legislation.
“Transport Canada expects to launch the commodity supply chain table in the coming months,” she said.