Farmers say bumper crop not reaching market on time

Across the Prairies grain bins and elevators are stuffed to capacity, but farmers say any extra profit from their bumper crop is being eaten away because they can't get their grain to market.

Shipping by rail not meeting export deadlines, farmers say

It's been a bumper year for wheat, barley and canola, but farmers say the crop isn't getting to market on time. (Canadian Press)

Across the Prairies grain bins and elevators are stuffed to capacity, but farmers say any extra profit from their bumper crop is being eaten away because they can't get their grain to market.

Saskatchewan grain farmer Reed Andrew said the rail system is not getting crops to the ports fast enough.

"I'm not sure where the holdup is or the issues with that,” he told CBC News. “We just see the end result, that we can't deliver grain when we're supposed to." 

Andrew isn't sure who's to blame. He just knows the transportation system is backed up — and he's losing money as a result.

"For our case it really comes down to cash flow and having income to pay bills."

CN and CP each say they're running about 5,500 grain cars a week, a record amount.

But this is a bumper year for crops such as wheat, barley, oats and canola. CN spokesman Mark Hallman said the problem is farmers produced so much grain the entire system is overwhelmed.

"It's not just railways. It's the elevators, it's the port terminals, it’s the entire network, including the railways that have to be working closely together to make this work." 

But farmers say their crop, with a price cap on what the railways can charge to transport it, may be shunted aside in favour of other cargo.

Blair Rutter of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association points to record numbers of tankers carrying oil by rail. He said that is taking away from the railroads' capacity to carry more grain.

"If there's other traffic on the rail, whether it's lumber, potash, coal or oil, it can affect the number of slots available for grain,” he said.

"It's possible that other commodities are paying more and so grain is not ... there may be other commodities getting preferential treatment." 

But CN said oil is not displacing grain cars.

"The suggestion that oil traffic is totally specious, it has no merit whatsoever. CN has ample capacity."

Figures from Statistics Canada show the harvest is 50 per cent larger than usual. But farmers say, even when it gets to market, they're unlikely to benefit.

The glut of extra grain has pushed down prices and despite the bumper crop, farmers won't make much more than they did last year. 

With files from Terry Reith


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