Good morning, Chair, and members of the committee. I'm Steve Pratte, Policy Manager at the Canadian Canola Growers Association.
Thank you for inviting the CCGA here this morning to discuss our perspective on grain movement this year. The Canadian Canola Growers Association is a national association governed by a board of farmer directors. It represents Canada's 43,000 canola farmers from Ontario west to British Columbia. As members well know, grain farmers critically rely on transportation to move our products to continental customers and to terminal position for export to our global customers.
In terms of canola, Canadian farmers grow a truly global crop. We are the world's largest exporter of this highly valued oilseed, and in any given year, over 90% of Canadian canola, in the form of raw seed or the processed products of canola oil or meal, is ultimately destined for export markets in more than 50 countries. In 2007 this amounted to $11.4 billion in sales.
Turning specifically to the movement of grain in this 2018-19 crop year, we have been very pleased with the recent aggregate performance of the grain supply chain. As we heard this morning, by various measures railway performance in the grain sector has been very strong, not only in total volume moved in the first 16 weeks of the crop year but also in terms of the various week-to-week performance metrics such as railway hopper cars supplied against shipper demand.
With any complex system, aggregate performance can mask specific issues, which in the grain supply chain often occur within the first and last miles of the movement and are very often specific to location or facility. Despite farmers' overcoming a challenging and late grain harvest in many areas of western Canada, the total system's performance has supported the relatively free flow of farmer grain deliveries into the country elevator and domestic processing streams, and the export of products continentally and abroad.
This is a good-news story—on balance. The grain supply chain to date has been relatively fluid. The performance of the railways in their service to our shippers, being the critical link between the elevator and terminal, is to be noted and given credit.
That stated, in western Canada we are now entering the annual period of lowering temperatures that will bring sustained system operational challenges and complexities, particularly, as we heard again this morning, for the railways. We encourage all supply chain partners to continue to work together to mitigate supply chain risks and swiftly deal with emergent issues.
To that end, it is worth making very brief mention of some of the early effects of recent changes to the legislative framework governing rail transportation in Canada that directly and indirectly impact winter railway operations.
Firstly, Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, contained a new feature aimed at enhancing annual communication and coordination of grain stakeholders: the annual publication of the August 1 grain report and the October 1 winter contingency report. The railways were given latitude in the preparation of these reports, and they did interact with grain shippers and stakeholders in the development of their inaugural publications. The grain sector is of the opinion that these reports are a good first step and that they could use some further refinement in the future.
Through this process and other corporate actions undertaken by the companies, the railways have certainly introduced a greater degree of communication and information sharing with the broader grain sector than existed even five years ago. I'll tip my hat to them for that.
In any year there will no doubt be specific or localized issues that arise, such as major line interruptions, and sometimes these will produce knock-on effects impacting a larger geographical region and extending deeper into the supply chain, essentially creating backlogs. Thankfully, this has not occurred to date, and hopefully it won't this year.
The real effect of these backlogs is that they negatively impact the farmers' ability to satisfy existing contract obligations with their grain buyers or their ability to sell into buoyant markets to receive payment to support their businesses, and ultimately, their families. In short, as members on this committee would know, if there's no grain delivery, there's no farmer payment.
If and when disruptions do occur, hopefully the suite of measures communicated to government and stakeholders in the railway winter contingency plan will suffice to bring a return to normal operations in quick order.
Secondly, Bill C-49 appears to have effectively dealt with the policy issue of the aging grain hopper car fleet. By amending several details in the calculation of the maximum revenue entitlement formula, the bill has had the intended effect of unleashing investment by both railways in the new generation of hopper cars, with announcements emerging from both companies immediately following the bill's receiving royal assent.
It should be noted, though, that farmers are ultimately paying for this railway investment through the structure of the maximum revenue entitlement, but it is a critical investment required to modernize the rolling stock. As the railways begin taking ownership in the coming months and continued fleet renewal occurs over the next several years, this is expected to produce significant increases in the efficiency of our grain supply chain when coupled with shortening cycle times and new train configurations, essentially allowing the system to move more with less.
Although the impact on this winter's movement may be negligible, moving forward, this will have a welcome and positive effect as the cars have a 50-year service life, and this will literally have positive impacts for more than a generation.
Finally, Canada has an aggressive trade agenda supported by recent trade agreements, and the agricultural sector plays a major role. Canada's canola sector and broader agri-food sector are focused on sustained, long-term growth, and this has been identified as a near-term driver of the Canadian economy.
The recent report of the economic strategy table challenged the agri-food sector with an ambitious target of $85 billion in annual exports by 2025. The service provided by our two major railways will play a major part of supporting the sector's realization of this goal, as will the port of Vancouver.
CCGA encourages members to consider the critical infrastructure issues in the port of Vancouver and what the role of government, be it policy, programs or investment, could be. It is time to ensure that long-term capacity is in place to sustain this national economic activity, and this may require some bold approaches to the regulatory and investment environment. In particular, the critical last mile of the grain supply chain into the port of Vancouver should be assessed and addressed.
In closing, this year we are heading into the winter optimistic but realistic about the railways ability to sustain their service to the grain sector and, more broadly, all commodity shippers.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning.