Farm leader concerned about impact PSAC strike could have on grain movement

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association wants the federal government to find a resolution to the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) strike as quickly as possible.

President Gunter Jochum, who farms west of Winnipeg, is calling on Ottawa to ensure Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) employees within the PSAC Union return to work immediately.

Jochum says the workers strike will impact the grain industry.

“About 80 percent of what we grow is exported, and so we depend on that export market, we depend on the flow of grain from farms, through our elevator system, out to the ports,” said Jochum, adding the Canadian Grain Commission inspects every ton of grain that gets exported, while third-party service providers also inspect grain, but only 70 percent of it.

He says with CGC employees on the picket line, it could mean the flow of grain comes to a halt, negatively affecting farmers across Canada as the seeding season approaches.

“We cannot have a stoppage in grain flow, we depend on that income…the majority of our expenses are coming up, having to put the crop in the ground so it’s imperative the (federal) government looks for a solution to end this strike.”

When asked about specific solutions the Wheat Growers Association would like to see to end the strike, Jochum said not only does he want to see it resolved, but taken a step further. Jochum wants the federal government to grant immediate exemptions for third-party service providers to ensure grain inspections continue, and vessels are loaded and released to the customer. He pointed out duplicity between the CGC and third-party companies that inspect grain “which means there is an added cost to farmers for (a) service that only needs to be done once, not twice.”

“There’s not only that added cost, but the private-sector – third-party inspectors – do it for less than half the money the (Canadian) Grain Commission charges for the inspections.

“The Wheat Growers have worked with the federal government before the last election in making changes to the grain act, and to the role of what the Canadian Grain Commission plays as far as grain inspection is concerned. We asked the government to let the staff – the non-unionized staff of CGC be available to pick up bag and tag samples provided by that third-party inspectors for CGC grading. Not only would that continue helping to keep our grain moving, it will also eliminate the duplicity and would save costs and in the end, beneficial to farmers.”

The organization claims in a news release the double inspections cost farmers over $60-million annually.

Jochum says there isn’t a backlog of grain movement at the moment but noted it would not take long if vessels don’t get loaded at ports in Vancouver, B.C.

“I imagine in a week or so, we will have a slow down or even a complete stoppage of grain movement off of the prairies to export location, and that will definitely impact members of the Wheat Growers, and will impact our income, our ability to cash-flow, and for businesses to run properly.” Jochum said.

The National Farmers Union has expressed support for the workers strike, now in its second day.

You can hear the interview with Gunter Jochum below this article.

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