What a difference a few weeks makes.  It seems like only yesterday that Cherilyn Jolly Nagle of the industry Astroturf group the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Assoc. was signing one of the first private contracts committing her to deliver a significant volume of durum wheat to the private trade.  Agriculture Minister Ritz had assured his followers, and few are more devout than Ms. Nagel, that without the Wheat Board interfering in the market, farmers would never have to start their trucks or grain augers in the winter if they did not want to.

Ms. Nagel obviously took him at his word.  Pity she did not understand a few simple facts.  Facts like: it is not physically possible to move all the grain grown on the prairies to port in a few weeks after harvest.  It takes all year because there are simply not enough terminal elevators to handle it all at once.

Oh, another pesky fact.  Customers only want grain, well, when they want it.

Perhaps Ms. Nagel is getting a bit concerned about delivering on that much publicized contract because at a recent meeting Ms. Nagle received a cold shower of reality from the head of CP Rail when she told him “We’re kind of looking for real good service right off the combine,” asking if CP Rail will add more cars to accommodate her.

“No,” was the blunt reply from CP which apparently sparked laughter around the room.

As Ms. Nagel and no doubt many other farmers will find out, without the CWB farmers have very little influence over railway performance or indeed much else.  All Ms. Nagle can do is sue CP rail for making her start that truck and grain auger in the middle of a cold Saskatchewan winter.  She can also pray that the durum contracts she signed with such fanfare let her off the hook for late delivery.

The Canadian Wheat Board successfully sued both railways for poor performance.  Without that strength in numbers individuals like Ms. Nagel are essentially helpless.  If past history is any guide, she can expect no help from the grain handling companies simply because their multi-million dollar inland elevators are captive to one of the two railways.  For them discretion has always been the better part of valour, and rather than fight the railways, it is easier and safer for them to take more money from farmers.  After all, the grain companies have a lot more capital on the line than a farmer from Saskatchewan.

Here’s a hot market tip for the Western Canadian Wheat Growers:  stock up on starting fluid, you may need it this winter.

No rail cars available: Wheat Grower Assoc. moves grain off combine to port - may not be exactly as illustrated

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