March 20, 2018 1:00 pm
Updated: March 20, 2018 1:25 pm

APAS calls on Ottawa to clear grain shipment backlog

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Todd Lewis has a message for MPs: pass Bill C-49 and clear up the grain backlog.

Lewis, the president of the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS), said Ottawa needs to address the backlog in grain shipments due to the impact it is having on farmers.

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READ MORE: Scott Moe blasts ‘mind-boggling’ rail backlog of grain shipments

“If you’ve got bins full of wheat, canola, or any other commodity and you can’t sell it and you’ve got bills to pay, it’s a pretty serious situation,” Lewis stated.

“Famers knew we were in trouble in October and November and it’s taken a long time for politicians and the railroads to pay attention to what’s happening.”

APAS vice-president Ian Boxall was in Ottawa on Monday to appear before the House of Commons standing Committee on Agriculture.

Boxall, who runs an 8,300 acre grain and oilseed operation in northeast Saskatchewan, told the committee that farmers in the region are sitting on three-month-old grain contracts that can’t be delivered due to the backlog.

“We don’t get paid on a contract, until we can deliver, and these delays add financial and personal stress on us as producers for something that shouldn’t be a concern,” Boxall told MPs on the committee.

“Farmers already deal with so many unreliable factors – weather, crop prices, and input prices. Reliable rail service should be something we can depend on.”

READ MORE: Grain industry raising concerns over growing backlog of grain shipments

Lewis believes the committee heard their concerns.

“Members of all sides of the house that sit on the committee were interested in hearing all the stories,” Lewis said.

“Between the farmers and industry members that did testify, they got a pretty good picture of what’s happening on the ground in Western Canada.”

The bill, which would improve public reporting by railways and allow for financial penalties if they fail to deliver rail cars on time, has been stalled in the Senate since the fall.

READ MORE: Grain bottleneck cause for concern among Saskatchewan farmers

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay called on the Senate to pass the bill, stating not only must the backlog be resolved quickly, but it must not happen again in the future.

“This is one of the key reasons our government introduced Bill C-49, which gives grain shippers the tools they need,” MacAulay said in a statement.

“We urge all parliamentarians to pass this critical piece of legislation as quickly as possible, because Canada needs a world-class transportation system not only for this year or next year — but for many years to come.”

Lewis said passing the bill would be a start to improving the situation.

“It’s far from perfect but it’s a framework. We can start getting some improvements and start holding the railroads to task a little better when the service is bad,” Lewis stated.

MacAulay added they continue to monitor the backlog and are working with Farm Credit Canada to ensure farmers have the financial flexibility to deal with cash flow pressures.

READ MORE: CN apologizes for grain shipment backlog, mobilizes more equipment and workers

The Ag Transport Coalition says Canadian National and Canadian Pacific combined provided 45 per cent of rail cars ordered the week of Feb. 25.

Sean Finn, CN’s executive vice-president for corporate services, said the railway has let some of its customers in Western Canada down and hopes to catch up and meet its grain car targets within the next 30 days.

CP has said it is starting to recover from the winter weather and is adding crews and locomotives.

With files from The Canadian Press

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