Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to present on this important issue. I'm glad to be here representing the Grain Growers of Canada, 65,000 grain farmers from coast to coast.
My name is David Bishop, and my wife, Mary, and I farm in Barons, Alberta. We produce cereals, oilseeds and pulses on 3,500 acres, including 640 acres of irrigation. My family's farming history in Canada dates back to 1910, and I began farming with Mary's parents in 1986. Currently, I'm also vice-chair of Alberta Barley, and I am past-president of the Alberta Seed Processors. I am proud of my involvement in commodity organizations and feel it is important for farmers to come to Ottawa to speak to you directly on these issues.
I would like to start by thanking this committee for the work you have done and continue to do on transportation. Transportation is an important issue for farmers across the country, and your past hearings, including the special hearing you held in March, helped to shed light on the challenges we have faced and has helped ensure the right solutions are put in place.
As this committee is aware, prairie grain farmers are almost entirely dependent on the rail transportation system to get our products to market in a timely manner. The unfortunate reality is that poor railway performance has prevented that from happening on almost regular five-year intervals. It is my hope that actions over the last year will help break the vicious cycle that has left farmers in a critical situation where we can't move our grain. As you know, when we can't move our grain, we don't get paid.
While my grain is moving well right now, the delayed harvest means that this year has not been without challenges. I experienced a five-week delay and a reduction in grain quality due to the bad harvest conditions and will now be counting on reliable grain service to move what I did get off.
The passage of Bill C-49 is a significant achievement for the rail shipping industry in Canada. It brings in measures long called for and rebalances the competitive environment. I appreciated the comments from CN and CP in the first hour of this meeting and would like to recognize that both railways have been reaching out to engage our group, the Grain Growers of Canada, and other groups to build strong relationships. Such outreach gave me hope for the future, and I look forward to continuing this relationship.
We've also been pleased to welcome investments in the new infrastructure, including the ordering of new hopper cars by both CN and CP. These critical investments are a clear indication that the bill has provided security of return on investment that the industry needs. Infrastructure has been degrading for many years, and it will take a significant injection of funds to ensure that the rail system can meet the needs of the industry as we continue to grow and meet the government's export goals. We hope to see many such announcements in the future.
I would like to take a minute to address the reports that have been released by the two railways. The new grain report and winter report are steps in the right direction. It is promising that they have been accompanied by an increase in engagement between the government, railways and the grain value chain. However, improvements are needed to get to the point where grain farmers can be confident that Bill C-49 will deliver transparency and collaboration that works.
A significant challenge with the plans that have been released is that the railways only commit to targets or maximum movement levels. They provide no indication of a minimum amount, and as such the railways could move substantially less grain and still declare it a success. Grain farmers need the railways to provide details on their planned minimums, and that information needs to be provided by corridor.
As I said earlier, grain farmers welcome the important investments being made by railways in new high-capacity hopper cars. However, the plans released by the railways continue to provide movement targets in line with historical averages. Given the continued growth that is expected in the grain sector, the reports provide little evidence of how the railways plan on meeting that increased demand. It is also worth noting that while the reports released to date speak to the apparent uncertainty in the supply chain, what is certain is that grain farmers need grain shippers and railways to move as much grain as possible between October and March when demand for Canadian grain is at its highest. This is essential for supporting a profitable farm gate.
What has become increasingly clear over the last five years is that we need ongoing oversight and engagement from this committee, the government and the Canadian Transportation Agency to hold all members of the supply chain to account to get the rail freight service that grain farmers need. It remains crucial that the government continues to closely monitor performance by the railways and is prepared to enforce the new regulations as necessary.
We are a mere 15 weeks into the new crop year, and we're just now moving into the critical time where performance typically will start to degrade, if it is going to. Around this time last year my industry was trying to raise alarm bells for what was to become a severe grain shipping backlog. These alarms fell on deaf ears, and these things are too important to be left to chance.
As all farmers say, winter happens every year. Time will tell if the plans the railways put forward will be up to the challenge of keeping grain moving across the Prairies and out to port. From what I hear, grain is moving pretty well and that is great news, but it needs to be sustainable.
Thank you for this. I look forward to your questions.