The Manitoba government has launched a grain bin listing service to assist farmers who may have to move grain out of the way of spring flooding.
“Our first priority is getting this grain moving, but secondly, we need to ensure we have ample space should farmers need emergency alternate locations for at-risk grain in flood-prone areas,” said Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn, speaking at the Manitoba legislature last week.
In late February, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation’s Hydrologic Forecast Centre issued a preliminary spring flood outlook, indicating that without significant precipitation between now and the spring thaw, the potential for flooding is below or near normal in most areas.
However, with large volumes of grain on farms and in temporary grain bag storage there are concerns some will have to be moved to higher ground in coming weeks.
“It is, obviously, with the volume of grain there is sitting in the bins, it’s going to take a number of months to move… first and foremost we feel it’s very important that we don’t get any spoilage,” Kostyshyn said.
The minister urged farmers with extra space to contact their local GO office.
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Filled to capacity
Currently, grain elevators in the province are filled to a capacity of 112 per cent when the amount of grain stored outside of the elevators considered.
“I would suspect there will be some available, you know, it would be interesting to see what there is available… because when we talk about the 112, that’s elevator capacity, and outside the elevators, so obviously some of the grain has been moved from the farmers’ bins to the elevators,” he said, adding that spring road restrictions will also be lifted for at-risk grain transportation.
But the province is also optimistic that there will be more grain moving through Thunder Bay, following the federal government’s imposition of minimum shipping requirements on rail companies.
“It does appear that there will be an extra effort now to move some grain to Thunder Bay. But let’s be realistic, Thunder Bay, the seaway is frozen over, so for the ships to come in, vessels to come in, would be challenging,” said Kostyshyn, adding that he spoke to Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison about the issue during a conference call March 17.
Historically, 64 per cent of Manitoba’s grain has been shipped via the Port of Thunder Bay.
Some have speculated that Manitoba’s grain will only move once Saskatchewan’s and Alberta’s have reached the Port of Vancouver, as rail companies move grain that is easiest to reach in order to meet their new quotas and avoid fines.
Kostyshyn doesn’t think that will be an issue, noting a provincial task force was created on March 12, which will work with the other Prairie provinces, industry, farmers and the rail companies to ensure equitable distribution of rail cars.
Late to the party
Tory Agriculture Critic Blaine Pedersen, isn’t so sure.
“They’re late to the party for one thing,” said the representative for Midland. “Where has the province been all winter on this? We’ve known all winter that this is a problem and it’s just gotten worse as every week has gone by.”
A provincial task force should have been created months ago, he added, noting Manitoba only got onboard after Alberta and Saskatchewan led the way.
Kostyshyn said the government has been exploring all options, as well as looking at long-term solutions, like processing more of Manitoba’s agricultural products within the province and expanding the use of the Port of Churchill.
“We need to have a plan in place for the next five years, 10 years, 20 years, so we have a guaranteed movement of cargo, whether it’s raw product that’s produced here or finished product,” he said.