Tuesday July 22, 2014

Finger pointing won’t move grain

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We exist today in a world where when something goes wrong the thing we do is point the finger at someone else.

It is a time and place in our history where little we do, even when it’s a complete failure, that we look at the person in the mirror and admit to being the problem.

It’s the reason we read about people suing some restaurant over their coffee being too hot, as if we should not expect coffee to be hot.

The agriculture sector is seeing a lot of finger pointing going on this winter as everyone involved in the grain handling system looks to assign blame to someone other than themselves in terms of slow deliveries to port.

The farmer sits ready to deliver and when they gather in coffee shops they are quick to assign blame.

Some look to the demise of the control the single desk selling of the Canadian Wheat Board imposed on the system.

Others look at contracts on production and blame them since grain companies in essence own the grain, forcing storage onto the farmer, and being able to essentially squeeze farmers by not calling on deliveries.

The federal government of course takes it’s share of farmer blame. In Canada we are used to government asserting control on so many elements of our lives, we expect them to control grain movement too.

In the end farmers ultimately care less about whom is to blame, and more in about getting the system working better for the rest of the crop year. There is a realization delivery lost in the months since harvest will not be realized no matter what transpires in the weeks ahead.

Now the federal government has its role to play. They have been in bed with rail companies since the first tracks were laid across the country, providing the companies with large tracks of lands and creating a system which has evolved to two major companies, which afford little in the way of competition for one another since few locales remain serviced by both.

The feds also create many of the rules and regulations under which the rail lines work.

In the case of grain movement it has been rather obvious for years the rail companies have little interest in serving the sector, with other commodities proving more profitable. The government’s posturing to control costs to farmers and ensure movements have been largely posturing with limited real time effect of the system.

In the case of slow movements, the federal government has pointed its finger squarely at the rail companies.

Not surprisingly the rail companies quickly deflected blame.

It has been a cold winter after all, which must impact a train engine rolling down the track more than the farm trucks poised to deliver grain to the elevator.

The rail system also suggests the grain companies did not move enough grain in the first few weeks of the crop year, based on the mammoth crop.

And of course everybody but the rail lines missed just how big a crop was anticipated, so the inaccurate information hamstrung the rail companies in the sense of being ready for it.

I suspect one day a university student will do a thesis on the year the grain system failed in the face of a record crop, and will find blame can be spread among every aspect of the system.

But pointing fingers and assigning blame accomplishes little, unless in that process all sides find themselves united in fixing the system so that in the future grain moves smoothly to the benefit of all. If no plan to patch the holes currently being exposed come out of this, then the finger pointing will be no more than a reflection of ‘not my fault society’, and the grain sector will have lost out not just this season, but into the years ahead as well.

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