British Columbia

CN Rail strike and bad weather causing 'toughest year ever' for B.C. grain farmers

Wheat and canola farmers are concerned about their financial well-being without trains to move their crops to market this season.

Half the crops still in the field, other half can't make it to market, says farmer

British Columbia grain farmers, primarily in the Peace River region, are concerned a CN Rail strike will delay shipments of wheat and canola. (Ruth Bonneville/Bloomberg)

A CN Rail strike is making an already hard year for British Columbia wheat and canola farmers even harder.

On Tuesday, roughly 3,200 conductors and yardworkers went on strike across the country after talks between the company and workers fell apart.

Many farmers in B.C. are dependent on the trains to move their product to market. Rick Kantz, the president of the BC Grain Producers Association, says after a poor harvest season the strike could mean some producers won't make any profits this year.

"We weren't able to get half the crops off the field, and now, the crops we've got, we can't ship. It's going to really move us into a serious cash crunch," said Kantz on CBC's Daybreak North Tuesday.

According to Kantz, 2019 has been one of the toughest years he has ever seen after wet weather and snow complicated the harvest season. He said many crops are still in the fields because of fluctuating weather. Multiple snows and melts destabilize the crops and cause rot.

Kantz said it is also more expensive to harvest wet grain because it is harder on equipment and the soil.

Blow after blow

Kantz said it will also be costly to store the grain that would normally be sent to export by train because it needs a lot of drying and care to keep it from spoiling.

He said farmers could use trucks and trailers to move some product to local markets, but that mode of transportation is "not nearly as efficient to get it to export market."

He said the crops will either sit in bins or stay in the field where he hopes snow cover will help protect it until spring, but said even under ideal conditions, about 30 per cent of remaining crops will be lost to wildlife and weather.

Kantz said most grain farmers will definitely need some financial assistance to stay afloat this year. The industry was also impacted this year when China blocked the import of Canadian canola, possibly in response to Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

"We've been hit with everything this year," said Kantz.

The federal government has urged Canadian National Railway Co. and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference to continue negotiating after conductors, trainpersons and yardworkers went on strike.

The workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, say they're concerned about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.

To hear the complete interview on Daybreak North with Rick Kantz, tap the audio link below:

With files from Daybreak North