TWO weeks after committing more than $1 million to a fiveyear, industry-led study on ways to improve the grain-transportation and logistics system, the federal agriculture minister was back in Winnipeg proposing some immediate measures.
On Monday, Gerry Ritz announced a series of proposals that will make more timely information on the rail movement of grain available to the industry at large.
"We are taking immediate action on early recommendations by the Crop Logistics Working Group (CLWG)," said Ritz. "It has clearly identified the need for more fulsome measurement of the transportation system."
The new measures will increase the frequency from quarterly to monthly reporting then broken down week by week.
Earlier in the month, Ritz said his department would support a fiveyear, $3-million technical review led by Pulse Canada. Ritz’s department also receives input from the CLWG, which gives industry players an opportunity to provide input into the Rail Freight Service Review implementation process.
"This expanded monitoring will provide a much clearer picture for all the players, helping them improve planning and cut overall costs," said Ritz.
"The railways have to be transport. When they’re asked for 150 cars and they only spot 100, they may say historically that is what we have done. But that’s not good enough in this new era of transparency."
Although these proposals are being made at a time when farmers and grain handlers are experiencing all sorts of frustrations in trying to move an especially large crop in a timely way, these measures are not designed to create immediate relief.
"Some of what has been announced today are the kinds of things we have been asking for," said Dan Maizer, vice-president of Keystone Agricultural Producers. "It basically boils down to transparency. Who’s making the orders? How are they being completed? How many are being thrown to the side? These have been longstanding questions." Rightly or wrongly, many fingers have been pointed at the railways for being somewhere around 40,000 cars behind schedule. They say they have moved significantly more grain this year compared with the five-year average but Ritz said they acknowledge improvements can be made.
Mark Hallman, a spokesman for Canadian National Railway, said CN is reviewing the proposed information- sharing measures announced on Monday. He said some of that information is already in the public domain.
"CN currently makes public the car orders planned to be spotted at grain elevators during the current crop week and the week proceeding it, the outstanding orders at the end of the current crop week, as well as future weekly orders beyond the current crop week, Hallman said in an email exchange.
"It also provides a monthly average of the grain hoppers spotted at elevators per week."
Ritz said he had meetings planned with railway officials later Monday.
A spokesman for Canadian Pacific said, "CP is prepared to work with the federal government and stakeholders at examining the entire supply-chain system in Canada at the same time recognizing in a year that the crop size was at extraordinary levels and a period of extreme weather, CP moved record carloads of grain."