Grain industry players need to learn to trust each other – Opinion

All elements of the prairie grain transportation system need to take a leap of faith and begin talking with each other, trusting each other and expecting the best of each other.

That’s because whether you’re a farmer, a grain company, a marketer, a port or a railway, you’re stuck together and can’t get divorced.

And nobody is benefitting from the present fraught relations, the lack of communication, the complaints and the bludgeon-like government actions that are resulting from this relationship meltdown.

That’s what I’ve concluded after covering some recent transportation-related conferences.

Cudgels are still drawn as some of those hurt by last crop year’s poor railway performance continue to nurse an appetite for revenge.

However, sincere efforts at reconciliation could find receptive ears.

The onus obviously lies with the railways to make the situation better because they have the monopoly-like power that allows them to — at least temporarily — ignore customer concerns and still make money.

They learned last winter about the dangers of seeming to be half-hearted about fixing the situation when the federal government stepped in with emergency legislation.

The reality of a regulations-averse Conservative government intervening aggressively in the market revealed just how severely the railways had under-delivered on the responsibilities that their monopoly-like positions had given them.

That seems to be making some parts of the system desperate to get back to collaborative working and planning.

It was good to see Canadian National Railway vice-president Jean-Jacques Rust out at industry meetings late last winter talking to anyone who wanted to talk, and he’s doing the same thing this winter. CN certainly seems to be making an effort to talk.

The present situation, with its level-of-service complaints, crude emergency federal regulations and general animosity, isn’t likely to lead anywhere good. Even when the government cracks down on the railroads, it’s had the affect of sideswiping producer cars and deliveries to places like the U.S. oat market.

It’s going to be hard for farmers and grain companies to trust the railways, especially because they have been wary and suspicious of their market power for more than 100 years. The 2013-14 problems just exacerbated that situation.

However, it’s necessary for the grain companies and farmers to take a leap of faith and act like the railways might actually be responsible and responsive if given the chance.

Especially after being schooled by the federal crackdown, which the railways have hated and complained loudly about, they might actually be willing to sit down to try avoiding anything more being imposed on them.

It’s Christmas and a time of peace and goodwill. It’s almost New Year’s and a time when we think about things we’d like to change.

Maybe we can take a leap of faith, act like the system could work the way that it should and give it a chance. We could be surprised by the results.

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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