Total costs of rail blockade reaching a "tipping point" for agriculture: CFA

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is calling on the federal government to resolve the issues with railway blockades, as agriculture sits on a “tipping point” of lost revenue, lost trade, and potentially an animal welfare issue, as propane, once again, is not making its way east.

In Quebec, 85 per cent of poultry barns are heated exclusively with propane; 80 per cent of that propane is shipped in by rail, says Mary Robinson, president of CFA.

As of this week, estimates are that there is seven to 10 day’s-worth of propane available, however, as the blockades continue, there is a real risk of Quebec’s 30 million birds being left without heat. What’s more, plenty of feed grains move by rail as well.

(Supplied)

Robinson, at a press conference in Ottawa, says that agriculture is being severely and harshly impacted by continued rail blockades, with widespread collateral damage. It’s estimated that the grain sector alone is losing $9 million per day.

This is the second major interruption to rail service in one winter, leaving the agriculture sector in a state of uncertainty and complete lack of control, adding an overwhelming amount of stress on an already stressed sector, Robinson says.

“Our livelihoods are being held hostage,” Robinson says. “A small group cannot freeze our entire transportation system.”

The near-term impact is devastating for farmers and growers — with perishable products, such as fruit, vegetable, and meat not moving — and there may be an impact on food stocks in grocery stores soon, Robinson says.

There are very real long-term impact to these rail blockades, too, she says, as Canada’s reputation as a reliable and trusted trading partner is in jeopardy.

“Canada is the fifth largest exporter of agri-food products in the world, but this is immaterial if [these products] can’t reach Canadians,” Robinson says. Currently, 50 ships are waiting at Vancouver, adding an estimated cost of $63 million per week in fees and capacity loss. These costs will come out of the ag industry, with no capacity to pass these costs on.

“This needs addressing now,” Robinson says.

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