Farmers worried about rail bottleneck in grain this year

More than a dozen groups representing farmers are to meet with federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau in Saskatoon to talk about moving grain by rail.

Federal transport minister meeting with several stakeholder groups

Federal transport minister Marc Garneau is meeting with producers and other stakeholders to talk about moving grain by rail. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

More than a dozen groups representing farmers are to meet with federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau in Saskatoon to talk about moving grain by rail.

The second largest crop on record is expected this year and farmers are worried about a repeat of a rail bottleneck that occurred in 2013-2014.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart made a pitch for improved transportation rules, including better reporting of weekly progress in moving rail cars and penalties for shippers and rail companies that don't meet delivery agreements.

"I personally talked about the fact that up to 90 per cent of our [agriculture] produce is exported, and it was $15.3 billion last year," Stewart told reporters after the meeting.

Stewart said access to rail, adequate levels of service and a fair price for freight is essential to the success of producers and the industry.

The federal government passed legislation in 2014 after rail transport delays left huge amounts of grain from a record crop sitting in bins across Western Canada, causing producers financial hardship.

At one point, Ottawa ordered rail companies to double the amount of grain they were moving each week to a minimum of one million tonnes or they could face fines of up to $100,000 a day.

The Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act was set to expire at the beginning of August, but in June it was extended another year.

Stewart said he was satisfied with the meeting, adding that he felt Garneau understood the magnitude of what was being presented to him.

Stewart said the scope will further be made clear as Garneau meets with several other stakeholders and groups.

"So I know most of those points will be reinforced."

Despite wet weather this harvest, the province is still anticipating a large crop this season. The provincial government is asking for assurances that the rail system meets the needs of farmers and shippers.

Stewart is asking for long-term changes to the transportation system to allow the system to grow in the future. He also wants interswitching, the transfer of traffic between two railway companies, kept at a distance of 160 kilometres.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has called on Garneau to ensure railways don't abuse their role and to maintain limits on how much profit they can make from grain transportation.

Canadian Pacific Railway has said it's ready to move the crop, but the grain isn't ready because wet weather is contributing to a late harvest.

With files from the Canadian Press.


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