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December 14, 2018 4.9°C

Rail backlog again causing headaches

Posted on February 27, 2018 by Maple Creek

by Murray Mandryk

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but we appear to be back to 2013 when it comes to moving grains, pulses and oilseeds by rail.

According to one report, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways two weeks ago only supplied 49 per cent of hopper cars ordered – 34 per cent for CN and 69 per cent for CP.

It’s been another brutal Canadian winter when trains don’t move as well as they should – especially, through the Rockies.

However, an even bigger problem is the spike in oil and wheat prices. The West Texas Intermediate price for oil has increased six per cent since November while wheat prices have increased eight per cent on Chicago Futures exchange.

We again have reason to suspect the railways are giving priority to moving oil over other commodities.

And that’s a big problem because it seems we lost sight of the problem since the near crisis situation of 2013.

To this, we can blame our politicians, but maybe we all should blame ourselves a bit as well.

“In all fairness, everything was going so well,”  said Vicki Dutton, a Patyon-area farmer and member of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers’ Board. “When things are going so easily, do you ever worry about the future?

“I don’t know if we lost sight of the future, but I think farmers are every bit as guilty as government.”

To that end, credit new Saskatchewan Party leader and Premier Scott Moe for at least trying to refocus government attention to this problem.

True to his leadership run commitment, Moe has appointed former economy minister Jeremy Harrison to head the new Ministry of Export and Trade Development.

It may sound little more than lip service to a largely federal problem that the provincial government has demonstrated it can’t fix.

Given the failure of former economy minister Bill Boyd to address these issues back in 2013 when he had the co-operation of a Conservative government  and local agriculture minister in Gerry Ritz, there seems to be some validity to that.

But maybe the economy ministry is finally past its distractions that in recent years have ranged from the Global Transportation Hub controversy to fights with Alberta over license plates at construction job sites and stocking of local craft beer on their liquor shelves.

And let’s also note Harrison may actually be rather well-suited to this role.

As a former economy minister – and as a former Conservative MP who knows his way around Ottawa – much of his political career has been dedicated to these very issues.

It also helps that Harrison seems to very much like focusing on the details – things like fixing local problems like rail crossings and sidings to ensure that can be just as big a hindrance.

Unfortunately,  fixing the seemingly littler problems may do little to solve the bigger problems … or for that matter, new trade problems that pop up every day.

For  example, prior to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trade mission to India, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart urged the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau address India`s pending 40 to 50 per cent tariffs on Canadian pulse crops be addressed. Unfortunately, Trudeau’s trade mission seems to be yielding more controversy than results.

That said, it’s not all bad news the pulse industry, with the recent successful Saskatchewan bid by Regina-based AGT Foods and Ingredients for the federal government’s $950-million federal Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

Pulse growers need all the help they can get in an increasingly tougher world market.

Dutton noted former Soviet satellite countries like Kazakhstan are emerging as major players in the world pulse market industry.

So it’s more important than ever that we do all we can to can ensure our producers have a rail system that allows them to gets product to market.

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