Changes will en­sure no more grain back­logs: min­is­ter

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - ALEX MACPHER­SON amacpher­son@post­ twit­­sona

It will take time for new trans­porta­tion leg­is­la­tion and in­fra­struc­ture to take ef­fect, but Canada’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter is adamant Prairie farm­ers should not face an­other costly grain back­log this win­ter.

Lawrence Ma­caulay ’s as­sur­ance that gov­ern­ment is deal­ing with the prob­lem comes months af­ter the rail­ways, for the sec­ond time in five years, strug­gled to get Saskatchewan-grown grain to port.

“The farm­ers cer­tainly re­al­ize that we’re mov­ing on this is­sue. It’s a ma­jor move, and it’s a nec­es­sary move. And it will be done,” Ma­caulay, the MP for Cardi­gan, P.E.I., told re­porters in Saska­toon on Thurs­day.

Those steps in­clude the pas­sage this spring of Bill C-49, the Trans­porta­tion Mod­ern­iza­tion Act, which aims to make the ma­jor rail­ways more ac­count­able through fi­nan­cial penal­ties and other mea­sures.

They also in­clude Cana­dian Na­tional Rail­way Co.’s prom­ises to buy 1,000 new grain hopper cars and spend mil­lions of dol­lars on new in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing $210 mil­lion in Saskatchewan this year.

CN is also con­sult­ing with farm­ers and grain groups this sum­mer as it de­vel­ops its ship­ment plan for the win­ter.

Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way Ltd., mean­while, pledged to spend $500 mil­lion on 5,900 new hopper cars over the next four years, with 500 of those com­ing into ser­vice be­fore the end of 2018.

Both rail­ways must, by the end of the month, submit to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment a re­port out­lin­ing their abil­ity to move the re­quired amount of grain dur­ing the crop year, as well as con­tin­gency plans should weather in­ter­vene.

Ma­caulay said he is “quite con­fi­dent” both rail­way com­pa­nies’ plans will be suf­fi­cient to pre­vent an­other back­log, in part be­cause the is­sue of grain trans­porta­tion is not new to any party in­volved.

“This must be dealt with, not only deal­ing with what we have but, in fact, deal­ing with a lot more. We’re go­ing to pro­duce more agri­cul­tural prod­uct … more ef­fi­ciently and it must move, too.”

Ot­tawa aims to in­crease agri­cul­tural ex­ports to $75 bil­lion by 2025, a tar­get Ma­caulay said is part of the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for his an­nounce­ment on Thurs­day of a $6.3-mil­lion in­vest­ment in the Western Grains Re­search Foun­da­tion (WGRF).

That money, to­gether with $2.7 mil­lion from var­i­ous in­dus­try groups, is ex­pected to pay for a five-year “in­te­grated crop agron­omy clus­ter” aimed at stream­lin­ing crop pro­duc­tion in Western Canada.

Asked whether the an­tic­i­pated in­crease in farm pro­duc­tion will make grain trans­porta­tion more dif­fi­cult, WGRF re­search com­mit­tee chair­man Keith De­gen­hardt ac­knowl­edged more can al­ways be done.

At the same time, De­gen­hardt noted, a push to get grain com­pa­nies as well as rail­ways to in­vest in hopper cars might help smooth the ship­ment of grain to port, and on to mar­kets around the world.

While the eco­nomic im­pact of this year’s grain back­log is not known, it is thought to be sig­nif­i­cant, and re­sulted in CN oust­ing its chief ex­ec­u­tive and is­su­ing an un­prece­dented apol­ogy.

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