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Delayed Grain Harvest

Reports regarding slow harvest progress throughout Western Canadian grain producers have surfaced over the last month. Farmers and railway representatives alike point to the generally poor weather conditions as a contributor to delaying an already late maturity of crops expected this season. The unusually cold and wet conditions have the potential to jeopardize the integrity of the crops and cause higher than normal volumes later in the crop season. All of these factors have put pressure on the rail systems across Western Canada and delayed the movement of grain from export terminals.

With snow falling continually through the end of September and into the early days of October, the residual moisture and cold temperatures can cause potential damage to existing crops. In its crop report for the September 24 to 30 period of 2019, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture details that “47 per cent of the crop is now combined” which is significantly lower than the five-year average of “75 per cent combined for this time of year.” The current conditions make it difficult to harvest the crop and delays are likely to continue until more cooperative weather arrives.

Farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the repercussions of an unusually cold and wet crop season as the effects have reverberated to the railways as well. Considering this season is forecasted to result in a particularly large crop output, the late harvesting will have ramifications on the ability for both Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway to service the grain industry later in the year. According to The Western Producer; the “western Canadian harvest is as much as 30 percent behind normal this year” which will “put pressure on the railway to move more grain later in the shipping year” as the railways still have to contend with carry over crop from the previous year. The railways will face challenges over the next few months to make up the difference for the slow harvest through September as they are faced with rail cars that have already been booked to capacity throughout the winter.

The delayed harvest throughout the grain producing provinces has had effects on the terminals of the West Coast as well. Throughout the last month the average waiting times for bulk vessels tasked with loading grain have started to rise as the arrival of rail cars becomes harder to predict. It is certainly not unusual for vessels to remain in port for multiple weeks as they wait for both cargo arrivals and for their respective berths availability. According to this Quorum report for week 8 of the 2019-20 grain shipping year, the number of vessels with a total stay in Port of over 15 days in both the Port of Vancouver and Port of Prince Rupert has been increasing since the start of September.