ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, US — Concerned about the potentially “devastating” impact of a railroad work stoppage on North American agriculture, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) and 19 other members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group in a letter to US President Joe Biden requested his administration work with the Canadian government to avert a major railway labor strike and to rescind the cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers moving essential commerce.

“(I)f the US and Canadian governments allow the following supply chain disruptions to persist into the spring fertilizer season, the impacts to our industry and North American farmers could be devastating,” the working group said in the letter sent March 7.

Canada accounts for 86% of America’s potash fertilizer, and about 90% of the oats milled in the United States are imported from Canada with 15% being trucked over the border, the letter noted. Among other commodities, Canada also receives fertilizer imports from the United States as well as a substantial amount of fresh produce.

The letter references a potential upcoming labor disruption at Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference recently voted in favor of strike action if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached by March 16. The impact would be significant for grain movements on both sides of the border for livestock feeding and processing operations served by the CP. The strike also would halt the CP route that carries US grain to the Pacific Northwest export market. Grain is CP’s largest line of business and 10% to 15% of CP’s business is fertilizer, the working group noted. 

“A CP railway strike would severely curtail fertilizer supply and shipments into the United States and would happen at the worst possible time as farmers are planting their 2022 crops,” the letter stated. “Given the fragility of current supply chains, urgent attention and engagement with all parties is needed to avert a potential strike.”

The letter also urged the US and Canadian governments to modify or rescind their mandates blocking unvaccinated foreign nationals, including truck drivers, from crossing the border. Canada’s vaccine mandate requires US truckers to show proof of vaccination before entering the country, and the US mandate requires foreign cross-border truckers to be vaccinated. The US Department of Homeland Security has said its border policy will remain in effect through April 21. 

“The border policy has raised prices because it has constrained trucking capacity and made truck movements more expensive and less timely,” the letter stated. 

More than 1 million short tons of fertilizer cross the US-Canada border by truck each year. March, April and May are peak months for fertilizer applications across the northern states. 

“Given the urgency of several supply-chain challenges, we urge revision or rescission of the border policy prior to April 21,” the working group stated. 

Among other signatories to the letter are the American Feed Industry Association, the American Soybean Association, the Corn Refiners Association, the National Barley Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Sorghum Producers, the National Sunflower Association, the North American Millers’ Association, USA Rice, the US Canola Association and the US Rice Producers Association.

View the full letter here.