Reinvestment needed for growth

Canola industry’s plans to expand production may be limited by transportation issues

BANFF, Alta. — Canadian agricultural industries that want to increase exports had better make sure they can move it once they’ve produced it, says a North American logistics expert.

If they don’t, rosy growth projections will fade.

“I’m worried as hell,” said Stephen Blank, director of Portal for North America, a transportation integration network.

“I don’t see an easy light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Canadian canola industry has developed a bold set of targets for 2025, including a cross-prairie average of 52 bushels per acre and total production of 26 million tonnes.

Speakers at the Canola Council of Canada annual convention seemed confident that the industry will be able to hit those targets because of technological innovation and improved agronomics and farming.

Other prairie agriculture industries, from pulse crops to hogs to beef to processed food products, hope to substantially boost exports in the next decade.

Blank said the real problem might begin appearing once the crops and animals are grown.

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“The issue you have is not only of the (canola specific) stuff we’ve talked about so far. It is, can you really continue to get the stuff from here to there in a timely, efficient, secure … fashion?” said Blank.

“That’s now really concerning.”

Blank said North America has suffered decades of under-investment in critical infrastructure. Railways, roads, pipelines and waterways are poorly maintained and little new construction has occurred.

The spending deficit soared when the 2008 financial crisis hit and has not improved.

Political divides have riven transportation planning and spending since 2008 and hurt the system.

“The politicization of these issues deeply intensifies the uncertainty with which we will be dealing,” said Blank.

“We are in for at least a decade of tumult and uncertainty.”

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Blank said fundamental disagreements have appeared over who should decide what transportation investments are made, who will do the work and how it will be funded.

He told the canola sector to urge governments and other parts of the industry to invest more heavily in transportation or risk failing to reach their goals.

“We can talk about increasing the amount of supply of canola and making it better. We can talk about exploring new markets. But unless we can get the stuff there in a timely, efficient, secure and sustainable fashion, all of that doesn’t (achieve anything),” said Blank.

Blank said the canola industry and other agricultural exporters should consider supporting the establishment of an overarching organization to co-ordinate efforts to boost continental transportation systems to avoid export snarls.

“Is it impossible to think about a North American commission on freight transportation?” Blank said.

“Can the (canola) council press government leaders to achieve a better understanding of the economic and budget implications of long term investment in physical infrastructure?”

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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