CP starts keeping score on grain supply chain

Canadian Pacific Railway’s decision to start posting a score card of the entire grain supply chain in this difficult harvest season isn’t sitting well with all farmers.  |  Michael Raine photo

A top executive with Canadian Pacific Railway says his company’s decision to publish a weekly report card on grain supply chain performance is not about finger pointing.

Instead, it is aimed at providing a greater level of transparency to the grain handling and transportation system.

“I think it’s important that we all collaborate and co-ordinate and that we’re transparent,” said Keith Creel, CP’s chief operating officer.

“The … score card not only will show the metric tonnes that we move in a given week, it will also show any supply chain challenges — not finger pointing but just highlighting — issues that affect … the entire supply chain.”

Creel said a variety of factors affect his company’s ability to move grain.

Those factors include cold winter weather, rain delays at export terminals, shifts and work schedules at export terminals and country elevators and unexpected harvest delays.

Harvest delays and commercial blending requirements are expected to slow the pace of grain movements this year, he added.

The variable quality of this year’s grain crop will require grain companies to spend more time sourcing, handling and blending grain to meet customer specifications.

“The quality (of this year’s crop) … slows things down on the front end … and it can put some strain on the supply chain, but I do think that the grain is still going to be there to move,” Creel said.

CP released its first grain supply chain score card Oct. 20.

It has evoked a critical response from some western Canadian farmers and grain shippers.

Others welcomed the score card in principle but said its value to others in the supply chain remains to be seen.

Greg Northey, a Pulse Canada official who manages grain shipment statistics and rail performance data for the Ag Transport Coalition (ATC), said he looks forward to seeing CP’s weekly score card.

The ATC comprises agricultural shippers and commodity groups.

It collects data and distributes a weekly performance update focused largely on railway performance and car order fulfillment by Canada’s largest rail carriers: CP and Canadian National Railway.

“Part of the reason why the Ag Transport Coalition started its work in this area was to try to get openness and transparency in shipping data,” Northey said.

“So this (CP’s score card) is a positive development. Whether the data (in the CP score card) is actually useful or whether it actually provides the kind of information that we would see as valuable for the supply chain … remains to be seen.”

Creel said CP is committed to moving efficiently what appears to be a larger-than-average western Canadian grain crop, despite a slow start to the shipping season.

CP’s total grain handlings in August and September were below historical averages, despite expectations of a near-record harvest this fall.

Creel said the heavy shipping demand that was anticipated early in the 2016-17 shipping season has been slow to materialize.

“We were assuming that the grain supply chain was going to fire up faster than it did,” he said.

“Actually, the first six or seven weeks (of the shipping season), we were moving less than the historical average and we were told that was because of the moisture and because of the late harvest.”

The pace of shipments has picked up over the past few weeks, he added.

“We are charged up,” he said.

“It started ramping up in Week 8 and Week 9, and as of last week, I think it’s a peak level.

“The key here is to make sure that the … entire supply chain, the railroads, the elevators as well as the terminals on the West Coast, continue to work 24-7 to make sure that the supply chain keeps moving.”

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