New ideas needed to move forward

So last week I started what became a two-part column around how stuck in old ideas the broader agricultural industry when it comes to fixing the long term problems associated with rail transportation of grain from the Canadian Prairies.

Regular readers will recall the Grain Millers Harvest Showdown Grains Expo held a panel discussion of grain transportation. The panel was made up of people representing various sectors of the grain industry. It was an opportunity to hopefully here some fresh ideas about how to address the transportation problem long term.

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But for the most part they did not offer a lot new, or innovative, as was the case with the suggestion we needed a more vibrant livestock sector to consume more grain here. Sadly, that ship has sailed as we have basically exported processing, feeding, and backgrounding south of the border.

So what other ideas came forward from the panel?

There was of course talk of short line rail, which seems like such a good idea because it keeps grain off the road system, but the forced movements of the past year had the two big rail lines focused on hitting targets, and basically forgetting the needs of short lines.

It was the same with producer cars, a great idea, especially in monster yield years where producers have the product to fill cars, but again getting cars through CP and CN was at best a challenge.

And then out came the suggestion of greater use of the Port of Churchill.

I have been at Yorkton This Week for a quarter of a century, and have heard the rationale for using the northern port ever since arriving here, since nowhere on the Prairies is the port a closer option than this region.

But if the argument for using the Port has been made for 25 years, and it goes back further than that, and it has not led to greater usage, it is unlikely it will happen.

The season is short, even with better ice breakers, the grain companies have vested interests in other facilities, and the line is not suited to current loads, to mention a few obstacles to expanded usage.

In the end it is not part of a transportation solution for the current era.

It was also pointed out Chicago is a veritable choke point for rail service heading south, and that solving that issue would help movements of grain south.

That may well be true, but we well know farmers haven’t exactly had a lot of impact of changing rail service in this country, so the likelihood we can influence American systems is rather thin.

And of course there was a suggestion farmers write to their MPs.

It would be nice to believe that has a huge impact on government.

It would be nice to believe in Santa Claus too.

But the reality is Prairie MPs fill a House of Commons whose ruling party is decided elsewhere. It is also true farm votes are now a small percentage of even Prairie seat votes.

Now these two columns may come off as harsh against what the panelists offered, and in a way it should.

I respect everyone has an opinion of what is needed in grain transportation, so I accept the suggestions on that level.

But sadly, they are ideas offered repeatedly through the years to little, if any affect.

What is needed are new ideas to move the system forward, and in that regard the panel missed a chance to float some nouvel, even radical ideas, for discussion.

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