Grain backlog focus of agriculture minister meeting

The ongoing grain shipment backlog was a key feature in a meeting between the federal and Saskatchewan agriculture ministers. File / Global News

The ongoing grain backlog on Canada’s rail lines was the main focus in a meeting between Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart and federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.

Farmer’s across Saskatchewan and Western Canada have been unable to get much of their crop to market due to CP and CN Rail being unable to fill a bulk of the orders.

MacAulay is calling on the Senate to pass Bill C-49, which would improve public reporting by railways and allow for financial penalties if they fail to deliver rail cars on time. The legislation has been stalled in the Senate since the fall.

Even once the legislation ideally passes, MacAulay says there is still a lot of work to do.

“We have to make sure there are enough hopper cars, enough that the grain moves, that’s simply what we have to do,” MacAulay said. “The proper infrastructure has to be in place, for example, more double tracks.”

READ MORE: APAS calls on Ottawa to clear grain shipment backlog

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MacAulay says the rail companies have come up with more hopper cars, but the problem persists.

The planting season is beginning, and with crops still in the bin, that means many farmers are not yet getting paid. MacAulay says his ministry is working on advance payment issues so farmers have the ability to actually start their growing season.

READ MORE: Grain bottleneck cause for concern among Saskatchewan farmers

Stewart says he’s basically on the same page as his federal colleague on this issue. Stewart has been calling on Transport Minister Marc Garneau to implement a temporary order on the railways to get them shipping more grain.

Stewart doubts that order will be put in place as more grain shipments are going through. Plus, farmers simply won’t have time because of spring seeding.

“Farmer’s don’t have time to deliver grain, so we won’t see a lot – heavy volumes of grain delivered again until June. So it is getting late in the game for an order,” Stewart said.

The province has sold off its fleet of grain cars, which Stewart says is not part of the issue. He said they are getting more use in Saskatchewan now by the short-line railroads that bought the cars.

As for the financial implications, Stewart says it is still too early to tell what the impact of this backlog will be. The 2013 grain backlog cost the country an estimated $8.3 billion.


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