The Grain Train

On May 22, Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, was passed.  This past week the air passenger rights public consultation took place in Winnipeg, and was full of people telling stories and making requests for the development of rules and regulations around the rights of air travellers.  While Karen could comment extensively on this aspect of the  bill, farmers are directly impacted by the portions of the bill focusing on rail transportation, or the current lack-thereof.


This week we are scheduled to load a semi of canola.  This is a normal farm activity and generally, not noteworthy enough to write about.  Except for the fact that this canola was supposed to be long-gone by now.  We had a contract for delivery in April/May for three loads of canola, but here we are, still storing those three loads of canola as we flip the calendar to July.

This happens because rail transportation is responsible for moving the bulk of Canadian crops from local elevators to ports and global markets.  Local elevators can only take grain from farmers until they are at capacity, and then they wait for a train to come.  If the trains do not come as anticipated, then the local elevator cannot take any more product, regardless of the date on the contract with the farmer.

Why does this matter?

·         Storage – Grain that is in a farmer’s bins, and not at the elevator, becomes a problem when it is time to harvest a new crop but last year’s crop is still taking up bin space. 

·         Work flow – Farmers give consideration to overall work flow when contracting grain.  The goal is to schedule deliveries so that they are distributed as part of an overall work plan.

·         Cash flow – Farm income depends on moving grain out of storage and to the elevator so that farmers can get paid.

Farmers recognize that they are one part of a huge transportation network and complex supply chain.  News stories about rail car shortages often do not translate these complexities down to the impacts on the individual farmer.  For farmers, transportation shortfalls affect storage, work flow and cash flow.  These unexpected challenges represent added stress for farmers as they get swallowed up as part of this huge system.  As #harvest18 approaches, farmers will be watching for rail companies to publish action plans and contingency plans as required by C-49.