Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart says the province is pleased with Ottawa's action on the backlog of Prairie grain.

On Friday, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said an order-in-council is going to cabinet that will force the railways to ship specific amounts of grain each week.

Raitt said the minimum would be set at 500,000 tonnes, which works out to 5,500 grain cars each for Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Many Prairie farmers had a bumper crop last year, but there's a shortage of rail cars and a lot of that grain is still in the bin and hasn't been shipped to port. Until the grain gets shipped, the farmers don't get paid.

The railways say the cold weather has been a factor, affecting how train brakes work, and has forced them to use shorter trains.

But some farmers say CN and CP are simply opting to make grain transportation a lower priority than other types of cargo.

skpic brad wall march 7

Premier Brad Wall talks to reporters Friday about federal action on grain transportation. (Aldo Columpsi/CBC)

A number of Saskatchewan politicians, including Premier Brad Wall and Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, had been asking for a tougher stance.

Stewart says mandating that a certain amount of grain move every week is a good first step.

"It'll make a considerable difference I believe. The railways certainly have the capacity to deliver these numbers and more and now, what's been lacking is the will to do it," he said.

The big proposed fines should help to give railways an added incentive to get the grain moving, he said.

Federal moves should help, Wall says

Wall said he was pleased the federal government acted.

"We had asked for immediate action including emergency legislation to be introduced and we are pleased the federal government has made this commitment," Wall said. "Clearing this grain transportation backlog has been the number one priority for our government and these federal measures will help our producers to finally get their product to ports."

WHAT'S THE GRAIN BACKLOG SITUATION IN SASKATCHEWAN?

This Year

38.4M

Saskatchewan farms produced an estimated 38.4 million tonnes of grain. That's 40% more than the five-year average.

25.5M

On of December 31 2013, there were 25.5 million tonnes of on-farm grain stocks waiting to be transported.

vs.

The 5-Year Average

27.4M

Over the past five years, Saskatchewan farms produced, on average, 27.4 million tonnes of grain each year.

18.8M

By December 31, there was an average of 18.8 million tonnes of on-farm grain stocks waiting to be transported.

1.5M

Between December 31 2013 and February 23 2014, only 1.5 million tonnes of grain had been transported from Saskatchewan farms. That's roughly 4.3% of the grain that was waiting on Saskatchewan farms in December 2013.

Source: Government of Saskatchewan

 

With files from Canadian Press