Rail Blockades Contribute to ‘Perfect Storm’ for Prairie Grain Movement



Rail blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia are contributing to a “perfect storm” affecting Prairie crop movement, according to Alberta farm groups.

The Alberta wheat and barley commissions said Wednesday that protests blocking CN rail lines in multiple locations across Canada are just the latest in a series of events that have slowed grain movement. An eight-day CN rail strike in late November, followed by a 10-day cold spell in January and heavy rains impacting rail movement and the loading of grain vessels at the Port of Vancouver have already hampered grain shipping in Western Canada this winter.

And those delays are coming directly in the wake of western Canadian farmers facing devastating harvest conditions, poor grain prices and trade uncertainty.

“With blockades happening in multiple Canadian locations, farmers will feel immediate effects,” said Dave Bishop, Alberta Barley Chair. “Delays will result in farmers being unable to deliver their grain, meaning they can’t be paid at least until service resumes. We are still recovering from the harvest from hell and need reliable grain movement in order to get back on track.”

The rail blockades stem from opposition to the Coastal GasLink project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. Earlier this week, CN said it would be forced to shut down significant portions of its network in response to the blockades, potentially impacting movement of everything from grain to airport deicing fluid to construction materials. The Port of Prince Rupert, a major Canadian grain hub, is already effectively already shut down.

As a result of the rail delays, cargo ships waiting to export Canada’s trade commodities are also backed up, with 39 ships waiting at the Port of Vancouver and eight more waiting at Prince Rupert as of Feb. 9.

“As we have learned through past experiences, rail delays cause immediate concerns for Canada’s global customers,” added Todd Hames, Alberta Wheat Commission Chair. “Not only do these bottlenecks hurt farmers’ incomes but they also hurt Canada’s reputation as a reliable grain supplier.”

In its own statement, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers noted the blockades are considered illegal, and called upon federal and provincial authorities to enforce the law.

“In our free and democratic society, all Canadian citizens have the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and assembly, but they must also obey the law,” the Wheat Growers said.

Source: DePutter Publishing Ltd.

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