The Grain Handling and Transportation System

 
 
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  • Western Canadian grain moves to export position through a complex network of grain elevators, inland grain terminals, producer car loading facilities and railways.
  • Grain shipments by rail are almost exclusively carried by CN and Canadian Pacific (CP)
  • Western grain moves through four ports for export overseas: Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Thunder Bay and Churchill.
  • Shipments from Alberta move mostly through Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
  • Western Canadian grain is produced far from the ports. This means that transportation is a major cost for the industry. In order to be competitive in offshore markets our transportation must be very efficient.
  • This means that our transportation and handling system is geared to high volumes and quick movement.
Railcar Allocation
  • The grain hopper car fleet in Canada is made up of government owned cars and privately owned or leased railcars.
  • Railcar allocation is a commercial process. Railways will allocate cars based on demand, car supply, operational factors such as weather and port congestion, and an individual shipper’s history of performance.
  • The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has had some influence over railcar allocation since it determines when and where wheat will be delivered. This in turn influences where railcars are needed.
  • In the open market the railcar allocation system is expected to perform in the same way it does for canola and other non-board crops.
Producer Cars
  • Producer cars make up about 4 percent of grain shipments by rail.
  • Producers will continue to have the right to use producer cars. The right to a producer car is written into the Canada Grain Act and will not change with the move to an open market for wheat and barley.
  • The Canadian Grain Commission allocates producer cars. Certain conditions must be met to use a producer car – the drop off location and end delivery location must be known and the producer car must be delivered to a sale.
  • In the past the CWB was the main agent for producer cars. The CWB can continue to play this role but other industry players may choose to offer producer car services.
Containers
  • Containers provide an alternative to moving grain in railcars and are a small but growing component of grain shipments.
  • Containers are especially useful for crops that are damaged by repeated handling or need to be kept separate from other bulk grain (e.g. organic or variety specific shipments).
  • Agricultural commodities are bulky and heavy and need to use the smaller sized containers which are in limited supply.
  • One trend in bulk shipments is to use railcars to carry them to port and then load the shipment into containers there. Is this a possible alternative to the use of in-country elevators and port grain terminals?
Hauling Grain Across the United States Border
  • Some farmers may want to haul grain across the United States (US) border for delivery.
  • In addition to a favourable price there are other factors to consider in hauling grain to the US such as the exchange rate and elevation and other fees at the destination facility.
  • There are numerous requirements (origin certificates, prior notice of shipments, trucking regulations, etc) that need to be followed correctly.
  • Using a customs broker to guide you through the process the first time may be wise to avoid delays, unnecessary inspections or other problems at the US border.
 
 
 
 
For more information about the content of this document, contact Joel Bokenfohr.
This document is maintained by Magda Beranek.
This information published to the web on May 31, 2012.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 26, 2014.