If Ritz saw transportation crisis coming, why didn’t he act sooner, Harder asks

Gerry Ritz says he saw the grain transportation crisis coming, so why didn’t he do more to prevent it?

That’s the question some farmers including Lowe Farm farmer and National Farmers Union member Dean Harder is asking.

Harder chided Ritz during his March 7 news conference in Winnipeg, saying Ritz was warned removing the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk and role in grain transportation would result in transportation turmoil and lower grain prices.

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“We saw this coming,” Ritz said in reply. “That’s why we put together the Crop Logistics Working Group (made up of grain industry representatives with a mandate to recommend improvements).”

While he welcomed the federal regulations, Harder said in an interview the government should have acted sooner. “For someone who saw it coming he (Ritz) sure waited a long time.”

While most farm groups are praising the federal government’s actions, NFU Region 5 (Manitoba) representative Ian Robson is criticizing Ritz.

“You can’t blame the railways entirely here,” said Robson, who farms at Deleau. “The removal of the wheat board and the co-ordination that went on between them and the elevator companies, the railways and the buyers has been lost so you’ve added confusion.”

If the old Canadian Wheat Board still existed there would still be transportation problems, but they wouldn’t be as bad, Robson said.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association disagrees. During the first year of the new open market there were no grain transportation problems, the association said in a release.

According to both Robson and Harder the grain companies are reaping huge profits on grain. They have higher costs, including for demurrage on ships waiting to load grain, but they are more than offset because of the huge difference between what farmers are being paid for their grain and what the companies earn selling at port.

“Farmers need to be really concerned about that,” Harder said.

If the wheat board still existed all farmers would have had a chance to ship some wheat and share fully in the returns through pooling.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: Producers urged to lobby feds over railway delays

Some farmers have had opportunities to sell grain this year, but they are the exception, said Brenda Tjaden Lepp, chief market analyst with FarmLink Marketing Solutions.

“There has been a big shift from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market here,” she said.

That means farmers have to call more grain buyers to seek out the best deals.

Despite the generally wider basis on most crops, there have been some marketing opportunities, including two weeks ago when the canola basis narrowed and futures prices increased, Tjaden Lepp said.

Southern Manitoba farmers have also been exporting wheat to the United States, “but it’s already getting harder,” she said.

Some American elevators are discounting Canadian wheat relative to U.S., while some aren’t even buying, she said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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