Propane-starved East’s grain growers seek end to CN strike

Farmers fighting through a soggy harvest in Eastern Canada have joined their western counterparts’ call for an end to the strike by Canadian National Railway workers — not to get grain out, but to get propane in.

Restoring the supply of propane for Quebec’s farm businesses, in the wake of a Canada-wide strike launched Tuesday by CN’s 3,000-odd conductors and yard workers, is “becoming the most urgent priority” for the federal government, Marcel Groleau, president of Quebec’s Union des producteurs agricoles, said in a statement Wednesday.

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Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Producteurs de Grains du Quebec on Wednesday asked jointly to meet “immediately” with federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Transport Minister Marc Garneau on the matter. Both ministers were re-appointed to their portfolios in Wednesday’s post-election cabinet shuffle.

Major propane suppliers in Canada estimate the current interruption in CN traffic could deplete 80 per cent of Quebec’s propane reserves in the next 24 hours alone, Raymond Gouron, director-general of the Association quebecoise du propane, said in a separate statement early Wednesday.

“Given the current state of inventories and propane reserves, the contingency measures proposed by the industry and the actions undertaken by our co-operatives and Sollio Agriculture to help our members will not be enough to restore the situation,” Ghislain Gervais, president of Quebec’s La Coop federee, said in a separate release.

Farms are “particularly vulnerable” without a stable propane supply, the AQP said. If the situation isn’t resolved in the short term, the economic consequences for many Quebec farmers will be “disastrous and irreversible.”

Grain growers, Gouron said, are in the middle of grain drying season and a loss of propane supply comes at “the worst possible time of year” for them.

Richard Smibert, president of London Agricultural Commodities, was quoted in Farmtario as saying eastern Ontario is now feeling the brunt of the strike, whereas southwestern Ontario is still receiving propane by truck.

“One (eastern Ontario) supplier is suggesting corn driers are at the bottom of the list and to expect significant delivering delays,” Smibert told Farmtario’s Jennifer Glenney. “Areas that are on propane will have to delay their harvest until they have fuel available.”

“We need to sit down with the ministers of agriculture and transportation immediately to determine how grain farmers can access propane today,” GFO chair Markus Haerle said in a release Wednesday. “Farmers cannot wait for days for this propane stoppage, we need solutions today — the viability of our crops depend on it.”

“Our farmers need propane to dry their corn as it comes off of the field. We need the government’s help now to find solutions right away to this propane stoppage facing every one of our grain farmers,” PGQ president Christian Overbeek said in the same release.

The AQP said it wants CN and its unionized workers, represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), to reach a negotiated settlement, but Gouron said “immediate” government action must be taken to make sure emergency logistics are in place to provide propane.

Nationally, the Canadian Propane Association on Tuesday called for negotiations between CN and the TCRC “to be concluded immediately, ensuring continued propane transportation across the country.”

GFO on Tuesday also called on the federal government to “explore all other options for propane delivery quickly.”

Haerle on Tuesday described the potential loss of propane supply as “devastating” for Ontario growers, who “are still seeing the majority of corn in the fields and harvest is progressing incredibly slowly.”

The corn crop now being harvested “is very wet and will require extensive drying to be viable, which requires the use of propane and our access is now cut off,” he said.

“The government must understand that we had already anticipated needing twice as much propane this year as a normal year. Farmers cannot harvest the corn as is and store it — that would lead to storage and quality issues. If our farmer-members leave their corn in the fields, they risk significant loss and damage.”

The propane supply break “also affects other sectors of production, namely poultry,” UPA’s Groleau said in a separate statement Wednesday. “Extraordinary measures are required and both levels of government must move quickly. At the moment, it is a pressing priority in the agricultural sector because the situation will quickly become dramatic if it is allowed to continue.”

Grain Growers of Canada, in a separate release Wednesday after the announcement of the new federal cabinet, hailed the return of Garneau, who as transport minister “has seen the industry suffer through previous rail transportation disruptions.”

GGC pressed Garneau “to work with his cabinet colleagues to get trains moving through whatever means necessary.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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