Bumper crop expected

By Geoff Lee

August 16, 2016 8:59 AM

Railways put on notice

The Saskatchewan government is putting railways on notice to get ready to move a larger than average crop to market this year.
“We see a very large crop coming this year in Saskatchewan and also across Western Canada in Manitoba and Alberta as well,” Agriculture Minster Lyle Stewart said Wednesday from Regina.
“So we are doing everything we can to avoid a situation like a transportation backlog like we experienced in 2013-14.”
Stewart wrote to the federal government and to CN Rail and Canadian Pacific Railway in July to ensure everybody’s gearing up for this crop.
“I know that they can do this job if there’s the will to do it,” he said.
“Our job is just to remind them we’re looking at a situation where they will be a lot of product to move and we’re putting them on the spot.
“We’re asking in a very public way that they ramp up to get the job done.”
Stewart ruled out the idea that rail logistics were a major cause of grain transportation issues in 2013 and he doesn’t see that being an issue this year either.
“The problem is both major railways cut back substantially on employees and equipment,” he said.
“Their share price has done very well, but sometimes the service isn’t as good as we expect it to be.”
He said those rail transportation challenges of 2013 eroded customer confidence.
Stewart said it’s important for the province to maintain the confidence of their customers, their loyalty and their business by shipping in a timely fashion.
“Customers have to feed their people so they have to rely on shipments arriving on time,” said Stewart
All but five per cent of Saskatchewan crop production is export production to foreign countries.
Stewart estimates this year’s crop will be between 30 and 38 million tonnes, about 50 per cent of the record 76 million tonnes of grain in 2013 that sat in elevators for months due to a rail backlog.
He said some of the estimated $1 billion lost by farmers in 2013-14 from transportation challenges was recouped when the grain was eventually delivered, but it came at the expense of the province’s reputation to deliver the goods on time.
“We hope all parties will step up and do what is necessary to move the crop this year,” he said.
Stewart wants Transport Canada to continue their Canada Transportation Act consultations to make sure everybody in the industry understands getting grain to market is a priority.
He said customers of the railways should be viewed as the stakeholders of the federal government not just the railways.
Stewart also favours a better dispute mechanism such as reciprocal penalties for shippers and for rail company deliveries for non compliance with their agreements.
“I think a better situation than a federal fine—the grain companies and the railways would owe each money for failure to perform,” he explained.
Aside from wanting better dispute mechanisms between shippers and the railways, Stewart wants to see increased inter-switching distances.
“We want guarantees for smaller shippers whether they be on mainline or branch lines or shortline railways that they’ll receive proper service,” he said so grain doesn’t sit for long in elevators.

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