Dear Railways, Are You Ready?

Dear Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway,

It’s only the middle of June right now, but there’s potential for a big crop in Western Canada this fall.

Alberta’s latest crop report pegged growing conditions at 80 percent good to excellent, eight percent better than the five-year average. The Saskatchewan ag ministry’s most recent update also noted “the majority of the crops are in excellent-to-good condition,” with the vast majority ahead of normal development. Crop ratings in some areas are better than they were in 2013.

After driving to Regina and visiting with farmers and grain industry people who drove from across the prairies to Canada’s Farm Progress Show last week, it sure looks and sounds like there are no widespread weather issues that have hurt yield potential in a big way.

A lack of moisture is often a limiting factor on the prairies, but that’s not the case in most areas this year. Topsoil moisture conditions for Saskatchewan crops are rated as four percent surplus, 85 percent adequate, and only 11 percent short or very short. There are going to be some disease issues, but for growing a big crop, that’s almost as good as it gets. It’s the same story in Alberta: soil moisture ratings in the good and excellent categories total 81 percent, versus the five-year-average (which includes the bumper crop year of 2013) of 69 percent.

There’s a good chance farmers, exporters and the Western Canadian economy will be relying on your ability to move more grain than normal this upcoming fall and winter.

It’s certainly not yet in the bin, and it’s impossible to predict or guarantee anything, but overall, this year’s crop has better-than-average odds of reaching “bumper” status, and we all know what happened last time we saw a bumper crop in Western Canada.

We’re coming off a pretty good year of grain movement by rail, and with the slowdown in the energy sector, there are likely fewer rail resources tied up for oil. The federal government has also extended its right to mandate minimum weekly grain shipping volumes. Those factors should all be in farmers’ favour heading into 2016-17.

One of your excuses during the massive grain backlog of 2013-14 was that you weren’t given information about the size of the crop early enough to prepare for the surge in railcar demand. Statistics Canada will only be releasing its first production estimates on August 23rd, so please consider this to be an early tip: there’s a good chance farmers, exporters and the Western Canadian economy will be relying on your ability to move more grain than normal this upcoming fall and winter.

Will you be ready?

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