Feds invite 13 ag players to join rail working group

The guest list has now been drawn up for a federally-convened working group to discuss ways of improving the grain transportation chain in Western Canada.

The Crop Logistics Working Group, announced Monday by federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz but unnamed until Wednesday, will see representatives from 13 industry bodies convene a forum to "consider the performance of the supply chain for all crops, and to exchange views and information on issues arising from the transition to marketing freedom."

Ritz’s line Monday about "marketing freedom" is a reference to the government’s planned legislation to end the single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley at the Canadian Wheat Board — and the CWB will be one of the 13 organizations taking part in the working group, Ritz said in Calgary Wednesday.

Other commodity groups announced as members in the new forum include the Grain Growers of Canada, Canadian Special Crops Association, Pulse Canada, Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA) and Alberta Barley Commission.

Shippers, meanwhile, will be represented by the Western Grain Elevator Association, Inland Terminal Association of Canada and Producer Car Shippers of Canada.

Other industry bodies taking part in the working group include Manitoba’s general farm organization, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP); the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities; the Canadian Grain Commission; and the Saskatchewan Shortline Railway Association.

The Crop Logistics Working Group is to be co-chaired by federal Deputy Agriculture Minister John Knubley with Pulse Canada’s CEO, Gordon Bacon.

The working group will also be expected to identify common interests and exchange views about issues in support of Jim Dinning, the government’s recently appointed facilitator in its Rail Freight Service Review.

For Dinning, the group will be asked to come up with views on performance measurement along the supply chain, a template service agreement for use between railways and shippers, and a streamlined commercial dispute resolution process for use when service agreements can’t be reached.

The working group is expected to hold meetings in Winnipeg and members will also participate in conference calls between now and late January. The group’s results are to be submitted to Ritz after its work is completed this winter.

"Best solutions"

CWB CEO Ian White in a statement hailed the working group as "a forum to consider the performance of the supply chain for grains, and consider the best solutions to the issues for the benefit of all stakeholders."

"Canola is Canada’s number one cash crop for farmers and with over 80 per cent of the crop exported, responsive rail service is essential to our industry," Rick White, the CCGA’s general manager and its representative in the working group, said in a separate release.

"We’re very pleased that canola farmers have been invited to the Working Group table and we look forward to getting the dialogue started immediately."

The CCGA said it has advocated for changes to Canada’s rail system that encourage commercial shipping arrangements and "more responsive" rail service for shippers.

"Transportation remains a key concern for barley growers," Matt Sawyer, chairman of the Alberta Barley Commission and its representative on the group, said in a separate release. "Participating in this group will allow us to discuss concerns and shape key policy points around this issue going forward."

"This is an opportunity for farmers and other industry stakeholders to have input into the process and identify our specific concerns and needs," said Doug Chorney, KAP’s president and its representative to the working group.

Chorney added that KAP is "pleased to see that the Producer Car Association and Shortline Rail Association are involved, because we need to ensure that investments made by farmers in shortlines and the producer car business model remain viable in the future."

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