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Ottawa Responds To Producer Car Shippers

“If you don’t have sidings, you effectively sterilize the right to load producer cars.”

– terry boehm

The Canadian National Railway (CN) should work with farmers before abandoning sidings used to load producer cars, says Rob Merrifield, Minister of state for transport.

“The minister is disappointed that CN is only using the bare minimum of time before it moves forward with this project (to delist 53 producer car sidings, nine of which are in Manitoba),” Merrifield’s spokesman Chris Hilton said in an interview Sept. 11.

Merrifield and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz will ask the House of Commons’ agriculture committee to re-examine federal legislation to ensure it meets producer car shippers’ needs, Hilton added.

Service to producer car shippers will also be assessed during a review of railway service underway for Transport Canada, he said.

The Manitoba sidings CN has delisted are: Sprague, Elie, Plumas, Roblin, Makaroff, Oakner, St. Lazare, Brandon and Minitonas.

The National Farmers Union (NFU), Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) and Canadian Wheat Board have called on CN not to abandon the sidings, which took place Sept. 6 after affected communities were given 60 days to comment.

Farmers can’t load producer cars at delisted sites.CNcan rip up the siding if it wants, but hasn’t made that decision yet, CN spokesperson Kelli Svendsen said in an interview.

The NFU says CN shouldn’t be allowed to delist sidings and has asked Ottawa to intervene.

KAP says farmers should have more time to comment, especially because they’re busy harvesting. KAP has also asked the federal government to intervene.

“If you don’t have sidings you effectively sterilize the right to load producer cars,” NFU vicepresident Terry Boehm said in an interview from his farm near Allan, Sask.

Boehm described the right of producers to load their own cars, won after legislation was passed and upheld in a lawsuit more than 100 years ago, as “sacrosanct.”

“With so much consolidation in the grain industry, when we lose this infrastructure (sidings) we lose an opportunity,” said KAP’s vice-president Robert McLean, who farms near Manitou.

Farmers can save $800 to $1,200 a car by loading it themselves, bypassing a grain elevator. If farmers are forced to haul longer distances to load a producer car it adds more cost and time, McLean said.

Last crop year a modern record of 12,447 producer cars were shipped during demonstrating how increasingly important producer cars are to farmers, Boehm said.CN

is committed to serving producer car shippers, but the delisted sites weren’t being used enough, Svendsen said.

“Forty-seven of the 53 stations identified for closure had no car movement in the ’08-’09 crop year and 30 of those stations had not been used in the past four years,” she said.

“We have more than 120 stations across the Prairies still available for producer car loading.”

Sidings must be inspected, and if necessary, maintained, so there is a cost to CN, even for unused sidings, Svendsen said.

Most of the delisted sidings are within 15 miles of another siding, she said.

Railway costs are irrelevant, according to Boehm.

“That’s standing the right (to producer cars) on its head,” he said. “The railways have to realize they have level-of-service obligations to be a Class 1 federal railway and every bit as important is the right to producer cars.”

As elevators and rail branch lines disappear and farmers look at competitive options, access to producer cars is increasingly important, McLean said. Five years ago McLean said he never expected to be an investor in a short line railway or loading producer cars himself. Once a branch line is gone farmers lose options and the same holds for sidings. Farmers may not have used some of the sidings lately but a year from now they might want that opportunity, he said.

The other delisted sites are: Saskatchewan – Kelso, Langbank, Odessa, Vibank, Atwater, Allan, Dundurn, Bladworth, Yorkton, Sturgis, Buchanan, Invermay, Wadena, Quill Lake, Tisdale, Harris, Brock, Kindersley, Flaxcombe, Alsask, Leney, Biggar, Scott and Lashburn.

Alberta – Beiseker, Bircham, Burbank, Duhamel, Hotchkiss, Chauvin, Ryley, Claysmore, Mundare, Spirit River, Lamont, Beamer, Egremont, Entwistle, Hythe, Kinuso, Donnelley, Girouxville, Peace River and Paddle River. [email protected]

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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