ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, US — Warning of the potential harm to agriculture and food systems, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) urged the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to take action to head off a railroad strike or lockout in comments submitted to the board May 21.

As negotiations between the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) railroads continue, the board has requested comments regarding the impacts of lost rail service on the movements of food throughout Canada. 

The union, which represents thousands of Canadian railway employees, voted on May 1 to authorize a strike as early as May 22. Contracts covering locomotive engineers, conductors and yard workers at CN and CPKC expired on Dec. 31, 2023, and the union is renegotiating a third agreement covering CPKC rail traffic controllers.

Shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities would result “in harmful consequences for Canada’s agricultural producers and industry as well as domestic and global food security,” the NGFA said. 

The NGFA represents grain, feed, processing, exporting and other grain-related companies that operate facilities handling US grains and oilseeds. The NGFA noted that many of its member companies rely on rail services that transit to and via Canada. A strike or lockout “would lead to ripple effects across the entire industry.”

For example, the livestock industry depends on rail to deliver corn and other feed grains, and biofuels operations, flour mills and agricultural export facilities require uninterrupted rail service. 

“A stoppage of rail service would materially harm Canada’s farmgate prices for commodities, Canada’s ag shippers and exporters and its global customers,” the NGFA noted. “The impact of a strike would be particularly severe as trucking is not a viable option for many agricultural shippers due to their high-volume needs and the long distances for many of the movements.

“An operational railroad is essential for agricultural production and food distribution, and we thank you for your responsiveness to this imminent supply chain issue.”