Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Grain Farmers Want Action on Railway Bottleneck as Planting Season Approaches

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Grain Farmers Want Action on Railway Bottleneck as Planting Season Approaches

Article excerpt

Farmers want action on railway bottleneck

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OTTAWA - A severe shortage of rail cars has left millions of tonnes of in-demand grain trapped across Western Canada and farmers warn that billions of dollars in economic activity could be lost unless the government acts soon.

Representatives of the agriculture industry were in Ottawa on Thursday pressuring legislators to provide relief to grain farmers unable to access the money they need for the coming growing season. A lack of rail capacity means producers can't transport last year's crop to market to pay off that season's input loans, they say.

Planting season is around the corner and last year's loans are coming due, said Ron Bonnett, head of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, adding that government inaction could mean serious hardship for farming families across the prairies.

"We need action," Bonnett said. "We're going to have farmers who are struggling to pay their bills and families that are suffering because of inaction by government and by the railroads."

Bonnett said the inability to move grain from bins, elevators and fields across the country is eroding the credibility of the grain industry and he warned that a lack of government action could plunge the country into a grain crisis as serious as in 2013-14, which cost the economy $8 billion.

Proposed legislation, Bill C-49, would give the government the tools to help farmers with cash flow and compel railways to move the grain or face penalties, but those measures are tied to separate provisions around a new air passenger bill of rights -- provisions that have raised concerns in the Senate, where the bill has stalled.

Agricultural Minister Lawrence MacAulay said he and Transport Minister Marc Garneau are urging the Senate to pass the legislation.

"We put an excellent bill together," MacAulay said, adding that he has told Canadian National Railway executives to fix the bottleneck as quickly as possible.

"A lot of consultation was done in order to make sure we put a bill in place that would address not today's issue, not tomorrow's issue, but for years down the road. That's what Bill C-49 is all about. …

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