Manitoba farmers frustrated, unable to move crops as CN Rail strike continues

After a tough year for agriculture, Manitoba farmers are struggling to move their crops after 3,200 rail workers walked off the job last week.

'It holds all of us ransom,' says St. Andrews farmer John Preun

Manitoba farmer John Preun relies on rail to transport the majority of his crops, but the CN Rail strike means three-quarters of the crop he expected to ship out is still on his farm. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba farmer John Preun's grain bin is supposed to be empty this time of year, but instead he has about a dozen bins filled with 7,500 tonnes of cereals, soybeans, oats and wheat.

With thousands of Canadian National Railway Co. workers on strike, the St. Andrews farmer said he can't get his goods shipped out because he relies on rail to transport it.

About 3,200 conductors, trainpersons and yard workers walked off the job Nov. 19 after failing to reach a deal by a midnight deadline.

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

Preun said this year was already challenging for agriculture before the rail workers went on strike last week.

"It's been a struggle for us," he said. "This is one of the worst years that I remember in my entire career of farming. I've never seen anything this bad, where we've gone from a drought, to an unconfirmed tornado, to a drought, and then just a deluge of rain when we didn't need it anymore."

Preun says he can't remember a year like this, with the early spring drought, storms, unprecedented fall flooding and trade disputes. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Preun said about three-quarters of the crops he would have normally shipped out already is still sitting, but it's not just him — the strike is affecting farmers across the country.

"We're at a standstill," he said. "It's put a strain on all of us, just the stress of not being able to move that crop in a timely fashion."

Preun said the quality of crops went down this year because of harvesting problems, and then the prices sunk because of trade issues. Now, farmers like him aren't even able to move their crops — and his bills are past due.

He said he's had to let his bank know his payments are coming, but they're going to be late.

"They're working with us to do that," he said. "But I don't like doing that. I want to be on time with my commitments."

Preun said the rail workers deserve to have a safe workplace, and he's sympathetic to their concerns — but he hopes they reach an agreement soon.

"The fact of the matter is that they've brought Canada [to] a standstill," he said. "We need the trains to move so that we can move our grain to an export position. It holds all of us ransom."

Visit John Breun's farm north of Winnipeg:

Dozen of grain bins sit idle waiting to be delivered to customers by rail. 2:06

With files from Marine von Stackelberg and the Canadian Press


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