British Columbia farmers face grain shortage

Canada's railway system overwhelmed by record harvest

Farmers in Fraser Valley in British Columbia could face grain shortages in the coming days, endangering millions of local chickens, cows and pigs, The Province newspaper has reported.

West Coast feed mills are scrambling to secure railcars of feed grain for local farms as the national railway system is overwhelmed by a record grain harvest on the Prairies and, according to some, an increase in oil and gas shipments from Alberta.

“The feed millers have had extreme difficulties getting railcars (of feed grain) into the Fraser Valley lately,” said Bob Dornan, secretary manager of the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada (ANAC), B.C. division. “We’re at the end of the pipeline for grain delivery, and the cars just aren’t coming.”

Dornan said there have been “hiccups” of poor service in the past, but the problem has been steadily growing worse: “No livestock have gone hungry yet, but we’re not sure what to expect anymore.”

Dornan said the export-grain market is more lucrative than the feed-grain market, and with limited ability to get export grain out of the Prairies, some firms have been prioritizing export grain at the expense of feed grain.

In a letter to several B.C. farm groups dated December 20, the ANAC outlined its efforts to urge CP and CN Rail to ensure feed-grain shipments to the Fraser Valley, warning of “potential feed supply curtailments.”

“We believe railcar allocation priority is an urgent and critical issue threatening our industry,” said the letter.

Otter Co-op feed manager Vafa Alizadeh said many of the large Fraser Valley mills are within a few days of temporarily shutting down because of grain shortages.

According to the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture website, there are about 1.7 million commercial-laying birds in the Fraser Valley, as well as 79 million broiler chickens. The majority of them depend on grain mixes that are milled locally from grain that originates in the Prairies.