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Cattle Industry concerned over potential rail strike

The Canadian Cattle Industry is on the verge of another critical situation.

CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Union are set to go back to the bargaining table on Friday in an effort to avert a potential strike that could come as early as March 16th.

An overwhelming majority, 96.7 per cent, of the more than 3000 members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference voted in favor of strike action earlier this month.

CCA President Bob Lowe says they are very concerned about the potential impacts of a rail strike on the ability of beef producers to feed their cattle, particularly feedlots.

As of February 1, 2022 there were 1.1 million head of cattle on feed in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

He notes with the drought and the lack of feed production, a potential rail strike would be devastating.  

"It is imperative that essential services are not interrupted, including the movement of agricultural products by rail.  We're running on imported corn from the U.S. to feed the cattle herd and feedlot sector. There are different numbers of what we need a week, somewhere around eight train loads of corn a week. Just to keep us even."

Lowe says one rail car is estimated to feed approximately 8,000 head for one day, therefore nine to ten trains a week is what we need.

He says the industry is in a critical situation as producers and feedlot operators need that feed, and are already running on a just in time, train by train basis.

"Just in time, I mean, probably the industry's got maybe 10 to 12 days of feed on hand. So that's that's not very much."

NCFA Chair James Bekkering says a rail strike would be devastating for the industry.

"With last year’s drought and recent transportation issues, feeders have been reliant on CP rail bringing up feed from the U.S. If trains stop moving, there will be no other options.”

According to Stats Can, corn imports for 2021 were up 400 per cent in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Lowe doesn't know if it's possible, but he'd like to see both sides go to binding arbitration before that March 16th strike deadline.

The next round of talks between CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Union are scheduled to run March 11-16, but there's growing concern that CP could start slowing down operations in preparation for a strike or lockout.

The CCA and NCFA estimate that over 1,000 super-B trucks would be needed weekly to replace the volume of feed grain currently be transported by Canadian Pacific Railway trains, and trucking capacity is not available, leaving no alternative solutions.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the National Cattle Feeders' Association encouraging both sides to reach a solution prior to the strike deadline.

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