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Challenges abound for agriculture industry

grain growers rail
Jeff Nielsen, chairman of Grain Growers of Canada, would like to see the federal government “give assurances that they will step in on matters quicker." File photo

Agriculture producers in Alberta and across Canada continue to face challenges on several fronts, including dealing with a national railway system that has been plagued with problems, says Jeff Nielsen.

The chairman of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) and an Olds-area farmer, Nielsen says international customers are already expressing dissatisfaction with the current situation.

“There is uncertainty of Canada being a reliable exporter of goods,” he said. “It is really being recognized as a challenge right now. You can’t get containers in and out of Canada and many industries are dependent on rail.

“It has come to a head where we have international customers who are telling us they are tired of the rail issues. We have customers who are telling us they are going elsewhere.”

GGC represents more than 65,000 grain, oilseed and pulse producers through its 16 provincial, regional and national grower groups.

Bitterly cold weather this winter has created troubles for the industry, he said.

“The harvest was somewhat delayed by the weather and there are crops left out across,” he said. “And then the cold weather hit and that did affect rail traffic.”

The eight-day rail strike in late 2019 also created problems for producers nationwide, he said.

“That really set things back,” he said.

More recently, rail blockades in several parts of the country held up grain shipments.

“That can threaten to pop up again at any time,” he said. “There are now 52 container vessels waiting on the West Coast. The grain shipment to the ports has to come by rail.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new uncertainty, including putting a damper on trade talks with other countries.

“It’s definitely affecting the world economy,” he said.

GGC would like to see the federal government “give assurances that they will step in on matters quicker,” he said.

“The inability to react has really shown itself this year,” he said. “Grain Growers Canada, through different meetings we’ve had with different areas of government, has suggested that it’s maybe time for a national summit on the economy due to the inability of our government to react fast enough to ensure these things don’t happen.”

Approval of the new Canada-US-Mexico trade agreement is good news for Canada's agriculture producers because it removes uncertainty, he said.

“They are our largest trading partners so we have to have that in place,” he said.

The GGC would like the federal government to do more to resolve the ongoing trade dispute with China that has curtailed Canadian canola exports for a year.

“The data shows that our canola is safe and this is a purely political issue,” he said. “That’s really disappointing.”

The GGC is a farmer-driven association, and the group advocates for the federal government to take decisions in support of growers across Canada.