Farmers worry about delayed payments and shipments as federal strike continues

Grain inspectors on strike could lead to delays in grain shipments being exported, which means farmers may have to wait until they can send new shipments and get paid.

Head of Wheat Growers Association says it also impacts global reputation

Man in blue sweater looking over a farm.
Levi Wood, a farmer in Pense, Sask., and director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. (Aishwarya Dudha)

The federal workers strike is affecting farmers in Saskatchewan and across the country. It could impact cash flow to farmers and grain shipments to overseas customers.

About 120,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) workers are striking nationally. The strike, which started on April 19, has disrupted about 30 departments and has affected a range of services.

The union and government have been working on a new deal since 2021. The union says its members need help with the rising cost of living and the government has said it needs a deal that's fair for the union and taxpayers.

More than 140 grain inspectors are among those on strike. They certify grain exports as members of PSAC. Without them, there will be delays causing a backlog in the supply chain.

Levi Wood, farmer and director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, said that the strike has a cascading effect on farmers, with picket lines going up at grain terminals in Vancouver.

As grain is sold to local terminals, it's put on trains and sent to Vancouver, where it gets on a boat to be exported. Getting that grain on ships could lag without grain inspections.

"I think if you see this labour disruption continue, it will certainly have a big impact on farmers and on the western economy but also on our customers," Wood said.

"What you end up seeing is that those costs end up getting downloaded to farmers in the prices that we pay."

Levi Wood is a farmer in Pense, Saskatchewan and director at Wheat Growers can be seen standing on his farm next to a tractor with a barn in the background.
Levi Wood stands by a tractor on his farm. (Aishwarya Dudha)

Risk to food security 

Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Ian Boxall said food security is at risk and the strike is another hindrance in the supply chain. 

"It will affect our cash flow as we go into our most expensive season, as we get ready to put the crop in the ground and spend billions of dollars here in Saskatchewan to do that, it'll just affect cash flow for those producers," Boxall said. 

Brett Halstead, another farmer and chair at Sask. Wheat, said he is concerned about the potential impact on research and development. 

"Every year a number of new seed varieties, agronomic plots are planted in the spring and scientific research is done that benefits farmers. We're concerned that the labour disruption could affect seeding of those plots, which happens in May."

Halstead said that if the strike drags on they could lose a whole season of agronomic research for wheat and other crops.

A barn can be seen on a farm with grey clouds in the sky and a tractor in the field.
If the strike continues, and shipments get delayed, farmers could see cash flow issues. (Adam Bent)

What next?

Wood said there aren't many other options if grain elevators cannot accept more shipments. 

"The grain handling system in Canada is primarily dominated by a few large companies," he said. "There are a number of small players, but outside of that there really isn't a great way to get rid of large quantities of grain."

Wood said farmers are getting ready for seeding season, which generally starts around May 1. With the ongoing strike, he plans to push back the seeding to buy some time, but said he has a tight window of about 90 days. 

Man in blue sweater seen working with tools in a barn.
Levi Wood works in a barn on his farm. (Aishwarya Dudha)

He added that grain not being loaded on ships in time also has a negative affect on Canada's global reputation.

"It has an impact on their perception of Canada as a reliable partner," Wood said. 

Wood and the Wheat Growers Association are calling for the Canadian government to get grain inspectors back to work immediately. 

The federal government presented a new offer to the striking union on Friday, but no other details were released.

Both parties say they hope to continue bargaining over the weekend.