Political parties must meet farmers, say ag groups

Political parties must meet farmers, say ag groups 

A coalition of Saskatchewan farm groups says Canada’s major political parties need to come up with concrete policy positions outlining steps to address chronic problems in Western Canada’s commercial railway and grain handling systems.

Representatives from the Agricultural Producers Association of Sask-atchewan (APAS), the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC) and the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission (SBDC) said federal political parties need to tell prairie farmers before the fall election how they intend to address ongoing rail service issues as well as problems in the country’s grain handling system.

By some estimates, those problems have cost western Canadian grain growers billions of dollars over the past year and a half.

Arlynn Kurtz, a retired farmer and APAS vice-president, said representatives from the three groups travelled to Ottawa last week to lobby for farmer-friendly policies that would result in better access to world markets and higher farmgate returns.

The groups met with MPs from four political parties and stressed the fact that high basis levels combined with unpredictable rail service have cost prairie farmers an estimated $3 billion or more over the past 18 months or so.

“These kinds of losses are unsus-tainable by producers,” said Kurtz, a retired grain grower from Stockholm, Sask.

“We’ve come through a period of relatively high commodity prices and that’s a time when producers would like to be able capitalize because there’s always infrastructure that they’d like to work on, machinery that needs to be replaced and debts that need to be cleaned up. We’ve just lost a golden opportunity.”

A report published in December, 2014 suggests that western Canadian grain farmers lost an estimated $3.1 billion in the 2013-14 crop year alone due to rail transportation delays and high basis levels.

Prairie farmers stand to lose a significantly higher amount this year, the farm groups claim.

Citing another study, Kurtz said excess basis costs paid by farmers are currently in the range of $62 per tonne, or $1.69 per bushel.

Here are the key requests Saskatchewan groups put forward:

  • A complete review of current railway costs.
  • The establishment of a new oversight group to monitor railway revenues and excess basis levels.
  • New rail regulations to ensure increased rail capacity for grain shippers and dependable access to global grain markets.
  • The retention of railway revenue caps or maximum revenue entitlements (MREs) that limit how much revenue railways can generate from hauling a tonne of prairie grain.
  • A system that guarantees commercial agreements between railways and shippers, including reciprocal monetary penalties and cost-effective methods for resolving or arbitrating contractual disputes.
  • Improved rail car allocation provisions for shortline railway companies and producer car loaders.
  • A new regulatory environment that would enhance the negotiating position of producers when dealing with grain companies.

“A full (railway) costing review is an absolute must,” Kurtz said.

“The maximum revenue entitlements also need to stay and after a costing review is done, they might have to be adjusted. But for now, we want to know, what are the railways’ costs and what is a reasonable (rate) for moving grain?”

In addition to a costing review, it is critical that shortlines and producer car loaders receive better service and more predictable railcar spotting performance.

“As it stands, producer car loaders and shortlines are the only competition to elevator basis,” Kurtz said.

“It’s very important that the right and privilege (to load producer cars) stays in place for producers and that they get the cars that they need.”

Kurtz said MPs seeking re-election have an obligation to hear the concerns of prairie farmers..

The Saskatchewan entourage had meetings with a number of parliamentarians including Liberal agriculture critic Mark Eyking, NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen, and Bev Shipley, chair of the House of Commons standing agriculture committee.

The trip was supposed to include a visit with federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz but that meeting was cancelled April 30, hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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