“No grain, no cheque, no cash"

Austin M.
Austin M. Davis
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Greg Simpson, president of Simpson Seeds, said the grain backlog is bad news for Saskatchewan and Canada.

Province already feeling effects of grain shipment backlog

Back in November, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Canada’s railways were doing an “adequate” job of moving 2013’s crop to market.

Greg Simpson, president of Simpson Seeds, is one of an increasing number of people who disagree with Ritz’s assessment.

“The level of service is not adequate,” Simpson said Tuesday. “Minister Ritz, I think he’s misinformed.”

At 81.1-million metric tonnes, the crop was the largest ever grown in western Canada, and yet, according to Simpson, canola sales are down 19 per cent.

“They’re not even at the level they were at last year,” Simpson said.

The problem, according to Simpson, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA) and the Grain Growers of Canada, is transportation.

Simpson said the combined shortfall of hopper car orders for western Canadian shippers between Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) was 44,700.

“The railroad is simply failing to provide the cars, the power and the crews to fulfill those orders,” Simpson said.

Although it may be easy to blame winter conditions for the backlog, Simpson said the problem started as early as September.

For local farmers, Simpson said the lack of moving crops to market means, “no grain, no cheque, no cash, no spending.

“Somewhere along the way, at a local level, retail’s going to hurt.”

Simpson Seeds processes and exports special crops and select seeds. It buys from thousands of farmers throughout Saskatchewan, many of who have bins still filled with lentils.

Simpson said on top of his company being behind schedule, the backlog means local farmers aren’t moving grain at the rate they need to.

“It’s pretty hard as an exporter to plan your week when the cars ordered don’t come. This has been frustrating for us and achieving our plan,” Simpson said.

He said though it’s not good for his company and all other exporters in Saskatchewan, it’s also bad for the country.

The WCWGA made four recommendations to address “structural problems in western Canada’s grain handling and transportation system,” one of which was to shift oil from rail to pipelines.

“There’s no doubt that oil should be moving in pipelines and not on rail. I agree 100 per cent with that,” Simpson said. “However, the fact of the matter is is that if the railroads wanted to provide the assets — engines, cars and crews — they could move grain as well.”

On Tuesday, Premier Brad Wall appointed a delegation to address grain transportation.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart, Economy Minister Bill Boyd, Highways and Infrastructure Minister Don McMorris and MLA Scott Moe are set to meet with grain companies this week.

According to a release, meetings between the government and rail companies will continue to discuss the ongoing capacity issues and challenges. The delegation will urge the railways to implement short term measures to clear up the current backlog of grain, including adding crews, cars and locomotive capacity as necessary.

“The delays in moving grain have led to lower prices for our producers at the farmgate and are harming our reputation as a reliable supplier of agriculture products throughout the world,” said Wall in the release. “We want every possible avenue explored to ensure our producers have the ability to market and deliver their grain in a timely manner.”

Organizations: Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Canadian National Railway, CN Canadian Pacific Railway

Geographic location: Canada, Saskatchewan

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