BN08-45: GRAIN FARMERS ASK OTTAWA FOR TRANSPORT REFORMS
Feb. 11, 2000
DAWSON CREEK — A coalition of more than 50 western Canadian farmers and industry representatives got together in Ottawa Monday, to stress the importance of transport reforms on the future of the grain industry. The coalition is urging the government to live up to its May 1999 commitment to make the grain transportation system “more accountable and beneficial” to farmers.
The coalition is convinced that reform of the grain transportation system will lead to lower transport costs and increase competition, eventually contributing to the viability of our industry.
“Transportation reform was the only issue that we talked about,” said Brian Haddow, British Columbia Grain Growers. “We would have like to have talked about low commodity prices and low farm income, but we felt we needed to keep the issue to one.”
Haddow says the grain transportation issue has been a hot bed for many years. The present system is said to be expensive, unnecessarily inefficient and prone to breakdowns. One breakdown occurred in 1993-93 and another, more serious one, in 1996-97. In response to producers, grain companies, railways, port authorities, and provincial governments requests for reform, the federal government initiated a comprehensive review of the system.
“We’ve been seeing small changes, but one thing that has not changes with regards to grain transportation is the full involvement of the Canada Wheat Board,” Haddow said. “With the full involvement of the board, it seems that the result or impact of the small changes that chance occurred in the past have not been great.”
Haddow and others are asking for the role of the Canada Wheat Board to change. Farmers in the area involved in growing crops that do not fall under the boards jurisdiction. However, there are still transportation issues associated with those crops, and are still effected and controlled by the board. Commercial and contractual systems will be more affordable and make Canada a more attractive supplier to international customers.
“We were able to meet with approximately 40 different MPs, ministers and executive assistants to drive home the points that we had to make,” Haddow said. “In most of the cases, the information was well received.”
Grain transportation is complex according to Haddow, and the coalition spoke to people answering not only their questions but explaining to them where they were coming from, how they were different from what had been proposed in the past, and how their approach is different from other letters an reports that have surfaced lately.
“Our basic premise is that we support that major works of Willard FC and Crougar, and it’s the FC report and the Crougar representation that has been recommended to the federal government,” said Haddow. “We support those and we were trying to backup some of that documentation.”
An ideal situation for Haddow would be government changing some of the policies and legislation concerning wheat board involvement within a year. He personally does not expect it to happen that quickly but is predicting some changes by August 1, 2001.
Farmers must send grain by truck, rail and ship, and being involved from day one means transportation issues are critical.
In past years, independent studies have estimated the costs of inefficiencies in the existing system. The most conservative estimates were in the range of $50-100 million per year, others ran as high as $200 million.
“You don’t know what will work for sure, but when you’ve tried something for as long as we have, we know that something has to change and something else needs to be tried,” Haddow said.