Prairie farmers produced a large crop this past year. We are quite aware of some dry spots in West Central Saskatchewan, but Western Canada in general had a big harvest. All that extra grain may cause supply chain problems, it certainly has caused problems in the past.
Western Canadian grain elevators have hit 85% capacity. Once they're full, farmers get nervous. Even at 85% they're starting to get a little nervous and it's for good reason: money! They need to sell their grain and haul it into elevators in order to make an income. If you want to see an angry sector of the workforce in today's society, stop paying them. It wouldn't work.
And no one wants that. So, we asked Treasurer of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers (WCWG) Jim Wickett if he had concerns about grain delivery delays. "It's the third largest crop that we've ever grown," said Wickett who also farms. He grows wheat, lentils, barley and flax in the Glamis area Southeast of Rosetown.
Crop yield estimates for the 2022 growing season are 75 million metric ton, which is up from 49 million metric ton in 2021. "You understand that it's going to take some logistics to move that amount." Wickett remembers the other two years with a record-breaking harvest, "when we had the other two big years, we had issues with rail shipping right off the bat. However, this year it seems like CN has moved a lot of grain. They broke a one week record here not long ago."
In the week of October 16th to the 22nd CN reported that they moved 806,000 metric tons from storage facilities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta to the ports of Vancouver and Thunder Bay. Which broke the previous week over week record of grain movement by 50,000 metric tons. If rail is meeting their obligations, then maybe we won't see the predicted backlog. This seemed like another good question to pose to Jim Wickett who has been on the WCWG board of directors for over 20 years, including 8 years as Chair.
Responding to how many things could contribute to supply chain problems Wickett said, "There's a terminal on the North Shore of Vancouver that has been having mechanical issues. On-going issues for almost a month now and it's always different things here and there. So, for rail, they have to stage trains, and this means they have to hold them back on sidings. Which makes a vessel wait. In this case, the trains that finally arrived didn't have the right grain for the vessel. Everything can get out of sync, and it just creates a ripple effect."
Wickett mentioned that both CN and CP have stepped up and started buying and leasing cars. The new railcars hold about 15% more grain, and they'll be hassle free for a while. He alluded to a possible struggle ahead of us with an aging fleet of Government and Canadian Wheat Board railcars. "They're forty-five to fifty years old. They're timing out, and anytime you hear of a derailment those cars don't come back into service."
When the big players in the provincial government and the private sector have finished with the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Expansion, they might be wise to open a railcar factory. Hopefully we can make railcars with lids that open easy and gates that never leak.