The council includes 10 representatives from the ag industry
By Diego Flammini
One of Canada’s national railways has assembled a group of people from the ag and rail industries to help improve service to its farmer customers.
Canadian National Railway (CN) created the agricultural advisory council as part of its 2019-2020 Grain Plan, which assesses the railway’s ability to move grain during the coming crop year and outlines what steps the company has taken to efficiently transport Canadian grain.
The council includes 10 members from the ag sector in the Prairies and British Columbia, as well as representatives from CN. The group will meet on a quarterly basis to “provide ongoing advice and feedback on grain transportation and (CN’s) interaction with producers,” the Grain Plan says.
The group has held two conference calls so far and is working through the details of its goals.
One idea is to bring a unified voice to Ottawa, said David Bishop, chair of Alberta Barley and one of the province’s three members on the council.
“In my mind, if we have a common issue that we can approach the federal government with, and the railway and the farmer are on the same page, it makes us look much stronger,” he told Farms.com.
The council will also act as CN’s ears in local communities.
Because farmers have a good sense of when grain deliveries are delayed the council can alert the railway of any hold ups.
“We can start seeing when the railway is getting slow on car orders so we can communicate that quicker to CN,” he said.
Finding efficiencies along the value chain is important.
Farmers spend significant dollars transporting their grain, said Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, a director with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and one of four council representatives from Saskatchewan.
“In my farming career, freight has always been one of the biggest expenses here in Saskatchewan,” she told Farms.com. “We must get the product (transported) as inexpensively as we can but also as efficiently as we can. Losing market for delays in railway transportation is unacceptable and we can’t have that as part of our reputation as Canadian farmers.”
So, the ag industry and the railway staff must work together. The relationship between the council and the railway leadership will be a two-way street.
Communication between producers and CN officials will help one another understand each other’s challenges, Bishop said.
“I’ve learned (grain transportation), when winter hits, is a little more complicated than what we realize,” he said. “The railways have issues when it comes to how much they can ship and how long the trains can be during the winter. In the past, we didn’t know why grain cars were delayed or when we the order would be filled. Having that communication now is key to having good grain transportation.”
The communication strategy must include transparency and accountability, Jolly-Nagel said.
“In the past, it’s been a big circle of pointing fingers at each other saying it’s the farmer’s fault for not getting there on time or it’s the elevator’s fault for not getting the right cars on time,” she said. “I think a lot of that was due to a lack of transparent information. I hope there’s more sharing of information to come. If we can analyze the pinch points along the chain, then I think we can talk to the railways about improving efficiency.”
The ag industry membership of the agricultural advisory council is as follows:
Alanna Koch, former Saskatchewan Agriculture Deputy Minister (Council Chair)
Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, director with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA)
Todd Lewis, president of Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan
Jim Wickett, chair of WCWGA
Fred Grieg, chair of Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association
Paul Orsak, former director with WCWGA
David Biship, chair of Alberta Barley
Jeff Nielsen, chair of Grain Growers of Canada
Bernie Schoorlemmer, former director with Alberta Pulse Growers
Barry Follensbee, director with the BC Grain Producers Association