The use of producer cars to ship wheat off the Canadian Prairies rose to near-record levels in 2010-11, the Canadian Wheat Board reports.
Prairie farmers loaded 12,784 producer cars, overwhelmingly with board grains, during the crop year that ended July 31, down from the 2008-09 record of 12,934 but up from 11,903 in 2009-10.
The “vast majority” of producer cars are used for wheat or durum wheat as part of the CWB’s overall export program, in collaboration with producer-car loading networks across the Prairies, the board said in a release.
Of the producer cars loaded in 2010-11, about 463 — three per cent of the total — were loaded with non-board grains last year, up from 234 in 2009-10.
Producer car use has risen “dramatically” over the past 15 years, the CWB said Friday, noting farmers’ investments in producer-car grain-loading facilities — and in shortline rail in communities where Canada’s two main railways, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway, either have discontinued service or don’t have their own track.
Producer cars are rail hopper cars which farmers can order to load themselves at CN, CP or shortline rail sidings, or at a producer car loading facility located closer than the nearest grain terminal.
Most of the Prairies’ 120-plus producer car loading facilities and 14 rail shortlines are owned by farmers in co-operatives or joint ventures, the board said.
“Farmers’ ability to use producer cars means they have an alternative to driving long distances to grain-company elevators, while saving $600 to $1,600 per car in handling charges,” CWB chairman Allen Oberg, a farmer at Forestburg, Alta., northeast of Red Deer, said in the release.
Direct savings to Prairie farmers from producer car use amounted to nearly $11 million in 2010-11, the board said.
Tim Coulter, president of the Producer Car Shippers of Canada, said in the board’s release that he’s concerned about the future of producer cars in the West, given the federal government’s plans to dismantle the CWB’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley by next August.
“The government has given us no indication of how the Prairie producer-car system can possibly survive this change, nor have we been asked for our input,” said Coulter, who helped found the Southern Rails Co-operative and the Briercrest Grain producer-car loading facility, serving farmers in the Moose Jaw, Sask. area.
“Producer cars work now because of the CWB. Grain companies have little interest in facilitating producer cars, since our cars are essentially in competition with their own services.”
The competition created through producer cars and car loading sites is a net benefit to all Prairie producers, such as through higher trucking incentives and/or lower grain handling charges in areas where the option to load a producer car is available, Coulter said Friday.