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Photo courtesy of CN Rail




It’ll take more than simply renewing railway shipping requirements to improve market access for Canadian grain, according to Stephen Vandervalk, vice-president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

“Our No. 1 challenge is getting grain to market,” Vandervalk said. “We have to have better service, run more efficiently and run more trains per hour and trains per day.”

Speaking to farmers and agricultural industry executives Nov. 26 at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Vandervalk addressed many issues facing Western Canadian producers.

In particular, the government’s required volume minimums—one million tonnes of grain per week—from Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway took centre stage at the event. Many agriculture leaders, including Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson, have said they would like to see the shipping requirements extended. The requirements were recently extended until March 28, 2015. In addition, the volume requirements are lower than they were in the previous order-in-council (OIC).

Vandervalk, who farms near Fort Macleod, called the volume minimums a Band-Aid solution.

Although the government’s original OIC sent a firm message to the railway companies, Vandervalk said many of the railways “ignored” elevators that weren’t closest to ports.

“Rail companies looked for the shortest distances, leaving many people out of the equation,” he said. “There were complaints where some people couldn’t get a car because they weren’t on an efficient line.”

It’s estimated last year’s backlog cost Western Canadian farmers about $7 billion to $8 billion due to high crop volumes and a rigidly barricading winter.

Instead of just focusing on the extension of the order-in-council, Vandarvalk emphasized the importance of the government’s ongoing review of the Canadian Transportation Act, which is expected to be finalized at the end of 2015.

“A lot of change will come through policy and government. They are the only ones that can change things—that’s things like the railways and running rights. That starts in Ottawa, and you know how Ottawa is—it’s slow. We really need a strong agreement.”

In the meantime, farmers could better access the market by travelling south to the United States to ship their grain, Vandervalk said.

“But I promise you, if a U.S. farmer doesn’t have access to his own elevator because there are Canadian trucks involved, you’re going to see the border shut down. We have to be smart about it, and not overload the system.



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