A poor crop means rail transport might not be an issue for grain growers this year but “the challenge is still there,” says the chair of Alberta Barley.
“What we went through a couple of years ago, with not being able to get our product off the Prairies to port and to our customers, was a real challenge, and I think transportation is still our No. 1 issue,” said Mike Ammeter.
“Our yields have been trimmed pretty good because of the drought that took place, so there will be less to export this year I’m sure. But we’re continuing to improve our cropping methods and our varieties, and we’re going to have another big crop somewhere down the road.
“I don’t think I’d say we’re cured.”
The Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act came into effect May 2014 to address the overwhelming grain backlogs between inland processors and port terminals. Under the new law, Canada’s railways became subject to stricter reporting and heavy fines for not moving the minimum level of grain outlined in the act.
That legislation “certainly helped alleviate the situation,” but there’s “still work to be done,” said Ammeter.
“It’s not just agriculture. It’s really our whole economy,” he said. “We are an exporting nation. A lot of what we export is in the Prairies a long way from tidewater, so rail is extremely important. We’re dependent on that in a lot of ways.”
And Canada’s reputation as a reliable grain exporter could be at stake if the new federal government doesn’t continue to work on the holes in Canada’s grain transportation system. International trade partners “gave us a mulligan” two years ago, but Canada can’t continue to do business that way.
“They said, ‘You can do this once, but if this becomes a habit where we can’t rely on you, there will be some real consequences,’” he said.
“They understood the challenges, but obviously, that’s not a good strategy to have. You just can’t treat customers like that and be unreliable.”