Great Canadian Grain Disaster?

Canadian National locomotives are seen Monday, February 23, 2015 in Montreal.The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz
Canadian National locomotives are seen Monday, February 23, 2015 in Montreal.The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

While much of Canada was focused on the Loblaws bread price fixing scheme, they may have missed another massive grain-based fiasco playing out in the Canadian heartland. For months, billions of dollars in grain that should have been on freighters has instead been trapped in Prairie silos for no other reason than railroads couldn’t rustle up enough trains.

Below, a quick update on the issue that’s been dominating discussion throughout farm country.

Clearing up the mess is going to take months

CN issued a full-throated apology in early March, promising to do “much better” at hauling grain. The railroad’s CEO, Luc Jobin, resigned last month in what’s believed to be a direct fallout from the backlog. They’ve rustled up extra locomotives and lured engineers out of retirement. They’ve even been buying web ads proclaiming their love of carrying grain. However, digging their way out of this grain backlog is still going to take some time. Grain elevators are still 90 per cent full across Canada. There is still $500 million of grain waiting to make its way to market, according to a back-of-the-envelope calculation by Keith Bruch, a former vice president with the bulk grain handler Paterson GlobalFoods. He based his numbers on a figure of 21,092 grain car cancellations over the 2017/2018 season. “At 90 tonnes per car that is 1.9 million tonnes at an average (market) value of $260 (per metric tonne) … $493 million,” he wrote in an email to the National Post.

… but farmers are saying it’s too late

There are definitely more trains on the tracks. And Steve Pratte, policy manager with the Canadian Canola Growers Association, told the National Post that they’ve “turned the corner” in grain shipments. But for many growers, the damage is already done.

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