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Producer cars in the new marketing era

Between changes to Western Canada’s grain marketing system and evolving Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) regulations, some farmers have concerns about the long-term viability of producer cars as a shipping option.

Anything could happen in the long-term, but at the start of the 2012-13 crop year, producer cars are still going strong.

Tim Coulter says CWB and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) have “really made it available to the farmer to load their own cars” in this new environment.

Coulter is the president of the Producer Car Shippers of Canada Inc. He loads producer cars near his farm at Briercrest, Sask., through the Briercrest Grain Limited producer car loading facility.

Besides enjoying lower grain handling costs, Coulter uses producer cars to save the 42 kilometre drive to Moose Jaw. This has become more important, with high fuel costs and fewer financial incentives from terminals. Coulter says, “It seems like the trucking incentive is gone.”

In mid-October, Coulter said that the number of producer cars loaded has been down a bit. “That’s a little disconcerting.

“They’ve been spotting good,” he says. The problems weren’t with the process, but that that “farmers are just not participating.”

However, this was before the CWB Harvest Pool October 31 deadline and Coulter was expecting producer car sign up to improve as the deadline came closer. “We (farmers) have a tendency to leave everything until the last minute.”

Barry Dakiw, who administers producer cars for the CGC says, “When I look at the numbers compared to last year, they’re comparable right now.”

At business week 13 (the fourth week of October, before the Harvest Pool signup deadline) the CGC had authorized 1,720 producer cars for this crop year (most of the first three months of the crop year). Last year at week 13, the CGC had authorized 1,765 cars.

In past years, 99 per cent of producer cars moved CWB grain. This year, Dakiw says there is a bit more variety, but CWB shipments are “still a high percentage of cars.” Another change is that they’re moving a wider variety of grain than before, including some canola.”

Jaime Burbank, CWB’s farm service co-ordinator, says CWB’s producer car shipping program is going fairly well. The interest is there.

Burbank says, “We’re doing our best to make sure it’s as easy and seamless as it used to be.” There are some changes to procedure, but Burbank says, as compared with previous years, “the process is very similar.”

Many farmers who want to use producer cars signed up for one of the CWB’s price pools, but if you missed the deadline or don’t want to be in the price pool, you can sign a cash contract with CWB and use producer cars. However, if you’re selling outside of the pools, your delivery options will be limited to one of 25 “eligible loading sites.”

CWB is a big player in the producer car game, but it is not the only option. At the producer car loading facility in Briercrest, says Tim Coulter, “we can actually load producer cars through Parish and Heimbecker.” It’s not that difficult, Coulters says. “Phone the P&H marketing rep and take in a sample.”

Producer car shipping has changed. “The first car I loaded was an auger over a grain car. It’s gone all the way to blended grain,” says Tim Coulter. These days, he says using a producer car loading site is “no different than hauling to your elevator or your inland terminal.”

Tim Coulter says, “Farmers are going to have to accept the fact that if they don’t use it, they’re going to lose it.” †

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