September 19, 2023

Agriculture industry averts disaster as CP Rail and union head to arbitration

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James Bekkering couldn’t have woken up Tuesday morning to better news.

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The president of the National Cattle Feeders Association had received a text message at 2:30 a.m. confirming that CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference had agreed to binding arbitration, ending a two-day work stoppage.

If it had gone on much longer, there could have been a disaster for animal welfare on the Prairies.

“It’s huge, there was a lot of anxiety in the industry if this was going to last almost a week,” said Bekkering, who was in Ottawa to push for a return to work for railroad workers. “There would be producers who might run out of food.”

A new deal had not been finalized by Tuesday evening, but agreeing to go to arbitration meant workers were back at work from midday on Tuesday.

Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, was also in Ottawa to lobby Bekkering. He said he expected a short work stoppage as there really was no other option.

“Nobody would want to put on their shoulders what would have potentially happened,” he said. “When you put it in that context, how disastrous it could have been, common sense says they’re going to have to do something.”

CFTC spokesman Dave Fulton said in a press release that the decision to accept arbitration was not taken lightly and wages and pensions remained a sticking point.

CP Rail has been calling for arbitration since March 14.

The agricultural sector is still recovering from one of the worst droughts and heat waves in a generation.

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Due to the conditions, cattlemen and feedlot operators had less grass for grazing and hay available for feed. They were forced to draw down food stocks much earlier than normal and quickly burned through winter supplies. They relied almost entirely on bringing food by rail from the United States to hold them back.

Feedlot operators, in particular, were near crisis levels in January due to a lack of feed. At the time, CP agreed to increase shipments from seven to 10 trains of corn from the United States per week.

Bekkering, which runs the TFS feedlots near Taber, said producers had just one to three weeks of feed left.

CP could not say when deliveries will return to pre-shutdown levels, but pledged to “work diligently with customers to safely restore our network to normal service as quickly as possible.” , Railroad spokesman Salem Woodrow said in an email. declaration.

It was a tough year for the beef industry.

Lowe said a big part of their season will depend on what happens in Ukraine, especially how it affects feed prices. Failure in Russia and Ukraine to secure a harvest will put increased pressure on world grain markets, making it harder and more expensive to obtain animal feed.

Still, he sees a strong market for beef this year, with strong demand, particularly in Asia, driving the market and a dwindling but still strong beef supply in Alberta.

“We’re in a protein-deficient world and we’re producing protein,” Lowe said.

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Jason Saunders, director of the Alberta Wheat Commission, said he was happy to see the union and the railroad come to an agreement, calling them industry partners. He pointed to the “millions and millions of dollars” of damage caused to the agricultural sector in early 2020 by rail blockades that paralyzed the supply chain for six weeks.

This is a critical time of year for grain farmers preparing their fields for planting. Supply, however, remains a problem, with fertilizers and other inputs hard to come by.

Farmers in southern Alberta also haven’t received the moisture from other parts of the prairies this winter and are entering the growing season with the lowest water levels since 2001.

Saunders, a dryland farmer, said he was counting on timely rainfall this spring to make up for the lack of snow.

“Humidity is our No. 1 limiting factor when it comes to our annual growth,” he said. “We are not sitting very well, but every year you have to be optimistic and hopefully we will have rain in April, May, June and the production is good.”

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