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More detailed data sought on railways’ Prairie grain traffic

Ritz on grain handling metrics
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz (with Pulse Canada CEO Gord Bacon at right) pledges expanded and more frequent reporting from the federal Grain Monitoring Program. (Dave Bedard photo)

Federally-mandated reporting on grain traffic on Canada’s two main railways is now expected to show the flow on a weekly rather than monthly basis.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz dropped into Winnipeg Monday for meetings with members of the industry-led Crop Logistics Working Group (CLWG) and accepted a number of its “early recommendations” on improvements to the grain handling system.

Out of those, he proposed Monday to require an “expanded range of metrics and reporting frequency” from the Grain Monitoring Program, which Edmonton-based Quorum Corp. runs on Ottawa’s behalf.

Where Quorum, which has run the program since 2001 under joint contract to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Transport Canada, has previously reported monthly grain handling data on a quarterly basis, it will now be asked to provide monthly data on grain movements, broken down on a week-by-week basis.

Where a Jan. 21 announcement of a new working group to turn up new efficiencies in the grain supply chain was meant to look at grain logistics in the longer-term, “what we’re addressing today are some of the problems we’re facing today,” Ritz said at a press conference. [Related story]

The new reporting requirements call for weekly “order fulfillment information” including car orders placed by all grain companies; car orders accepted by railways; car orders “actually placed” by railways; and cancellations of orders.

The tightened program also calls for reporting of weekly loads on wheels by carrier; the covered hopper car fleet size in grain service for both mainline carriers by class of service, also weekly; weekly port terminal unloading performance, such as unloads at each port, details on arrival and unloading time at terminals, and “constructive placement dwell.”

It further calls for data on railway grain traffic to Eastern Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, such as volumes, loaded transit times and cycle times, as well as on U.S. grain traffic to Prairie destinations and Prairie grain traffic shipped to port via containers.

More detailed reporting “will facilitate better communication between supply chain participants, improve predictability through a better understanding of supply chain variability, and support improved planning, thereby reducing overall costs to the supply chain,” the government said.

The changes call for information from “all aspects” of the supply chain, not just the railways, Ritz said.

The railways, he said, “have to be transparent in why, when they’re asked for 150 cars (at an elevator), they only deliver 100… (When they say) ‘That’s what we’ve always done,’ that’s not good enough.”

Ritz said he would be meeting with representatives of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway (CN, CP) later Monday, and noted both companies “have alluded they can do better.”

On top of the CLWG’s early recommendations, Ritz said the department “look(s) forward to seeing its comprehensive report in the near future.”

Dennis Thiessen, a Steinbach-area farmer and director with Grain Growers of Canada, said in a release that the CLWG’s early recommendations “make sense and they are needed at this time. Improving the frequency of reporting and better communications with industry, railways, government and farmers at the table is what is needed to get the grain moving.”

Noting last year’s record crop and higher yields, GGC president Gary Stanford of Magrath, Alta. said in the same release that with “new technologies and better and more sustainable farming practices, there is no doubt that farmers’ yields will continue to increase.”

While recognizing a severe winter and increased competition for track space from other commodities such as oil, “we need to highlight the reality of larger grain volumes to the railways going forward as this will have an impact on future movement by rail,” he said. — Network

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