The Agricultural Advisory Council is calling for government leadership
By Diego Flammini
An industry advisory council is calling on the country’s decision-makers to take action to ensure Canada’s network of ag transportation mechanisms is reliable in the future.
The Agricultural Advisory Council to CN, whose membership includes western Canadian farmers and industry reps, met in Vancouver, B.C., to discuss the affects the rail blockades had on Canada’s agricultural sector.
“We’re looking for leadership and we have to ensure that our railway system isn’t put at risk again,” Alanna Koch, chair of the advisory council, told Farms.com. “While people have the obvious freedom to protest and put opinions forward, nobody should have the ability to cripple the Canadian economy by having our railways taken hostage.”
The protests in response to TC Energy Corp’s Coastal GasLink pipeline started with members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in B.C. on Dec. 31. Other First Nations communities in Ontario and Eastern Canada blocked rail traffic in an act of solidarity.
The blockades meant no rail cars were making deliveries on time, resulting in delays and missed shipments.
“In the case of CN we lost the equivalent of 10,000 carloads, or roughly 1 million tonnes (of grain),” Jean-Jacques Ruest, CEO of CN, said Tuesday, Reuters reported. “Of all the supply chains the one that will take the longest (to recover) is the grain export.”
The delayed rail shipments also led to backlogs at Canadian ports and demurrage costs, which farmers will likely pay.
Federal and provincial investments into critical infrastructure at ports is necessary to help Canadian ag goods reach their intended destinations, Koch said.
“We’ve seen it with our own eyes here in Vancouver, the amount of congestion (in the port),” she said. “We’ve seen investments improve that but we’re going to need more investments to ensure we can move our exports to markets around the world which is so critical for agriculture.”
“In addition, we know there are spring inputs that are going to be challenged to be put into position in time before farmers are planting. What does that mean for us from an additional costs perspective?”
The rail blockades’ total effect on the industry may be in the multimillions of dollars, Koch estimated.
The next step for the advisory council is to reach out to the federal and provincial governments, as well as other players within the ag supply chain.
Taking a collaborative approach to this situation will help the industry move forward, Koch said.
“We’re hoping to provide input into CN’s plan on how it’s going to work with the rest of its customers as well as governments to ensure it can restore service,” she said. “In the long term, we want to reduce what some risks are in the system like unexpected disruptions in the supply chain.”