Possible CP Rail strike could wreak havoc on cattle feed supplies, fertilizer shipments, and grain exports

Farm groups and agriculture industry organizations are sounding the alarm about the potential for a strike by Canadian Pacific Railway employees in the coming weeks.

More than three thousand engineers, conductors, and other railway workers who work for CP and are members in the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference have voted in favour of a strike mandate, with mediation meetings still scheduled from March 11 to 16.

“Strike action by CP Rail employees is another devastating blow the cattle industry cannot withstand. Last year’s drought resulted in a significant lack of grain, and cattle feeders are relying on feed supplies from the U.S.,” explains Janice Tranberg of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

“There is no buffer in the system. If trains stop moving and feed is not available, supplies will run out very quickly. This is a grave concern for our animals! We need CP Rail and Teamsters Canada to negotiate in good faith and come to a resolution before strike action,” she continues.

In addition to critical feed imports for cattle, the timing of a potential rail strike could wreak havoc for spring fertilizer supplies, notes Fertilizer Canada‘s CEO Karen Proud.

“A strike in mid-March would compromise Canada’s position as a leading fertilizer supplier at a critical time in the year when farmers are applying fertilizer products to their fields. A strike could also potentially result in fertilizer production facilities and/or mines being forced to shut-down production, impacting Canadian workers, the economy, and the current fragile supply and demand balance for fertilizer,” she says, urging the federal labour minister to take proactive steps to prevent or mitigate the negative impact of a work stoppage at CP.

Of course, grain exports would also be hurt by a rail strike. Both CP and rival CN Rail have already been falling well short of demand in supplying hopper cars, according to weekly performance reports from the Ag Transport Coalition. In the last week, for example, CP fulfilled 55 per cent of hopper car orders, while CN only supplied 44 per cent, according to the ATC.

“For weeks, despite lower than average hopper car demand, Canada’s two major railways have been fulfilling only half of grain orders. This record poor performance continues to cost Canada’s grain supply chain millions – both in unnecessary demurrage and storage fees, and in cancelled contracts and lost opportunities,” observes Greg Northey, vice-president of corporate affairs for Pulse Canada.

“Any potential work stoppage at CP would only compound the hurt being felt by Canadian farmers and the overall value chain, and weaken Canada’s reputation as a reliable exporter. Our supply chain does not have the resiliency necessary to withstand another blow, which is why Pulse Canada is calling on the federal government to use every tool at its disposal to ensure this work stoppage does not occur.”

Both Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association chair Daryl Fransoo and Alberta Wheat Commission‘s Geoff Backman echo Northey’s comments.

“Farmers have seen mediocre service for a better part of the grain year,” says Fransoo, who farms near Glaslyn, Saskatchewan. “The railways are absolutely critical infrastructures for our industry and for the Canadian economy. If a work stoppage is brought on, we implore the federal government to use all necessary means to ensure there isn’t further interruption in the movement of Canadian grain to export positions.”

“This has been a difficult year for our farmer members in Alberta,” notes Backman. ” The increased price of grains is a lifeline for farmers in this regard, but these prices are only a benefit to our members if international buyers expect that Canadian crops are available for a reliable and timely delivery. Otherwise these buyers take their business to other countries.

The Teamsters members who work for CP went on strike in May 2018 as part of their last collective bargaining process. The union reached a four-year deal with the railway within the first 24 hours of the strike.

Check out Shaun Haney’s coverage of the potential CP Rail Strike on RFD-TV:

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