CP Rail shutdown forcing canola crush plants to curb operations

A Canadian Pacific train leaving the Bunge canola crush plant in Altona, Man.

Update, as of early March 22: 

CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference have agreed to binding arbitration, ending the work stoppage as it extended into its third day.

Normal business operations for the railway are supposed to resume on Tuesday, March 22.

The ongoing work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway is forcing canola crush plants in Western Canada to scale back operations, according to the industry association that represents canola and soybean processors across Canada.

Around three thousand members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference who work as engineers, conductors, and in other railway operations roles for CP have been on strike and locked out since early Sunday morning.

While most of the 11 major canola crush facilities in Western Canada rely on CP in varying degrees, there are at least four plants that are “captive” with no alternative options for shipping out processed oil and meal by train.

Based on railway maps, Bunge’s crush plants at Altona, Man., Harrowby, Man., and Nipawin, Sask., as well as Richardson’s plant in Lethbridge, Alta. are solely serviced by CP Rail.

If crush facilities cannot ship product out, they will likely widen the basis and eventually be forced to delay farmers’ deliveries.

“As a result of this work stoppage, members of the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association (COPA) will be forced to curb production and unfortunately experience preventions and delays in executing customer contracts,” says COPA, in a statement shared with RealAgriculture on Monday. “COPA members regret the situation which will be detrimental to processors, farmers and world-wide customers.”

Farm and agriculture industry groups, along with shippers in other industries, are calling on the government to intervene in the labour dispute. In addition to disrupting crush plant operations and hurting grain exports, there are major concerns about critical imports of feed supplies for livestock in Western Canada following last year’s drought, as well as delivery of fertilizer throughout North America ahead of the spring planting season.

“Given the urgency of the situation, COPA is repeating its call for the government to take early action to bring a swift resolution to this work stoppage,” says the association.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan Jr., in an email update Monday morning, says the government still has faith in the parties’ ability to reach an agreement. The minister has been in Calgary since Saturday to meet with both the railway and union.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to mention canola crush plants served solely by CP Rail.