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Will Record Canadian Grain Harvest Be Hindered by Rail Issues?

Last year, Canada's two major railways struggled to move its much smaller 2021 crop amid disruptions

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Photo courtesy of CN Railway
Photo courtesy of CN Railway

Canada is set to have a bumper crop this harvest, but snags in the country's railway system could make it difficult to ship.

Bloomberg reports Canada’s harvest rebound comes as world grain supplies have been uncertain following the war in Ukraine and as extreme weather trimmed output in parts of Europe. Drought is also shrinking crops from the U.S. Farm Belt to China.

Last year, Canada's two major railways struggled to move its much smaller 2021 crop amid disruptions from wildfires, floods and extreme weather.

This year, Canada will likely harvest its third biggest wheat crop on record and 42% more canola.

Western Grain Elevator Association calls for more transparency

To ensure there are no weak links in Canada’s agriculture supply chain, in July, agricultural groups called for increased transparency throughout Canada’s shipping logistics systems.

The “Canada’s Ready” campaign is a grassroots public awareness campaign to show Canadians and the world that our farmers, processors and exporters are ready to step up and deliver.

The fall of 2022 represents the most important harvest in a generation, said Wade Sobkowich, executive director, Western Grain Elevator Association, in a statement.

“Grain processors and exporters have consistently invested to expand Canada’s capacity to store and move grain," said Sobkowich.

"A large crop is expected and demand for Canadian grain is on the rise. By implementing our plan, we can show that Canada’s Ready to do what we do best – supply quality grain to consumers here at home and around the world.”

Four-point plan for transparency

Canada’s agriculture industry at large has developed a four-point plan to ensure that farmers, processors, exporters, and consumers in Canada and around the world have confidence not only in these plans but in Canada’s overall ability to deliver. This includes:

  1. Providing detailed, transparent plans on how railways plan to move grain based on the template provided by the grain sector. Container lines serving Canada must also step up and provide a clear indication of the expected capacity of their programs that will be made available each month for agriculture exports
  2. Forming an Industry/Government Labour Council to track the progress of the collective agreement negotiations. There are 12 CN and CP labour agreements that are expired or will expire in 2022 alone
  3. Ensuring that railways and container lines provide monthly updates on their capacity plans
  4. Increasing support for comprehensive performance measurement programs – such as the Ag Transport Coalition for rail – to measure how service providers are meeting their plans and outline improvements for the future

Railroads say they're ready

The bumper crops are in line with Canadian National Railway Co.’s grain plan, spokesman Jonathan Abecassis told Bloomberg. The country’s largest railway said in July it expects to move as much as 27 million metric tons in the crop year starting Aug. 1.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. told Bloomberg that it’s “well-positioned to meet the transportation needs of our grain customers and the broader Canadian economy during the 2022–2023 crop year.”

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