Feds to convene working group on grain transport

Participants up and down the crop supply chain are being asked to take part in a new working group to improve grain transportation in Western Canada.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on Monday announced plans to form a Crop Logistics Working Group, billed as "a dedicated forum to exchange views and work to improve the logistical system for farmers, the handling industry and customers."

Ritz’s announcement — made in Saskatoon at a meeting of the Inland Terminal Association of Canada — is tied in part to the government’s legislative package to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley, now before the House of Commons as Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act.

The current single desk carries with it a substantial role for the CWB in shepherding rail-dependent Prairie wheat and barley from elevators to port position.

The working group, the government said Monday, will be a forum for the ag value chain 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."

The working group is also expected to play a role in the facilitation process following from the federal Rail Freight Service Review launched in 2008, the government said. Alberta businessman Jim Dinning, a former provincial finance minister, was named last week to lead that process during the next six months.

That facilitation process is expected to "bring together shippers, railways and other stakeholders to develop a template service agreement and a streamlined commercial dispute resolution process."

Specific participants in the working group weren’t named Monday, but a spokesperson for the federal ag department said the roster will be announced as soon as members’ participation is confirmed.

The government’s release Monday didn’t say exactly which companies, agencies or organizations are expected to have a seat at the working group’s table, but the spokesperson reiterated the "entire supply value chain will be represented from growers to elevators to rail."

"We want to make sure the agriculture sector is well positioned to play a constructive role as the facilitation process gets underway," Ritz said in the release.

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