Challenges and breakdowns in Canada's supply chain became evident during the pandemic.

Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, established a National Supply Chain Task Force to examine the key issues affecting supply chain operations.

The Task Force's mandate was to produce recommendations on how we can make our transportation supply chain stronger.

In the agriculture sector, a key challenge has been trying to get raw commodities to port in a timely fashion.

When the National Supply-Chain Task Force released its final report in October 2022, there was a recommendation to expand railway interswitching zones with a suggested target date of May 1, 2023.

Interswitching allows one railway to take a shipper’s freight part of the way between origin and destination, and then transfer the freight to a competing railway with which the shipper has made arrangements for the rest of the haul. 

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan has written the Federal Transport Minister urging him to expand railway interswitching zones. 

The farm group says it makes sense in a country that exports a majority of the products that we produce, and rail being one of our biggest issues in getting those exports to port.

APAS President Ian Boxall says we are only two and half months away from the targeted date for expanded interswitching.

"With federal pre-budget consultations also underway, we wanted to ensure elected officials and other decision-makers are aware that our members are looking for policy changes and investments that help Saskatchewan farmers get their products to market in a timely and cost-efficient manner."

Boxall says interswitching as a competitive tool for captive grain shippers and shortline operators is practically non-existent in a province that produces over half of Canada’s grain exports.

Currently, shippers must be within 30 kilometres of an interchange.

In Saskatchewan, out of 203 licensed grain handling facilities, 200 are captive to a single rail service provider, and only 23 are located within that 30 km radius.

Boxall says if that 30 kilometre radius was increased like we saw when we had the rail crisis in 2014 and 2015, that would encompass more elevators and improve rail service in getting our products to port in a quicker manner.

"Even the railroads could voluntarily put this in place to ensure that shipping is not an issue as to why these products are getting to where they need to be."

He points out making the system more competitive and efficient is in the best interests of all farmers going forward and we should not be distracted by the fact there haven’t been any major system-wide services issues so far this year.

APAS notes it also supports the Task Force recommendations to strengthen the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) authority, providing the CTA with more funding to help fulfill its mandate, and additional supports
for shortline railways.