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Area farmers feeling impact of railway strike

Like many farmers across the country, those in Chatham-Kent are dealing with the effects of the ongoing CN Railway strike.

Around 3,200 CN employees hit the picket lines a week ago, causing the railway to operate at approximately 10 per cent of its normal service and bringing a halt to vital resources being transported across the country, including propane.

The lack of propane has been causing a massive headache for crop farmers who have not been able to get propane delivered needed for them to dry their crops.

Louis Roesch, Essex and Kent zone director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said he got a call from propane supplier Dowler-Karn on Sunday night alerting him of the situation.

“There’s no corn drying propane,” said Roesch. “Trucks are lined up for 12 hours at Sarnia… I’ve heard that there’s line ups there to pick up propane that are up to seven miles long. It’s more than 18 hours at times to get filled.”

On Friday, Dowler-Karn posted a message on their Facebook page, calling the effects of the strike “crippling.” The supplier informed customers that it will be prioritizing supply based on critical need requirements including home heat, barn heat and critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

“The situation is not a shortage of propane, but instead, Dowler-Karn is unable to receive delivery of propane to our terminals from western Canada due to the rail strike,” read the statement. “Dowler-Karn have taken steps with our propane supplier to secure inventory for the near future. Unfortunately, given this season’s high demand, we will need to make difficult decisions based on the relative critical nature for our customers’ needs. As of midnight, Sunday, November 24, 2019, Dowler-Karn will temporarily hold the delivery of propane to our crop drying customers. Between now and then, our Ag customers will have three days to dry any corn already harvested or have stored in their wet bins.”

Roesch said propane is a vital part of harvesting crops and not having it can create a domino effect for farmers.

“Let me put it in perspective with heating your house. It gets cold in the house when you don’t have propane, you can’t cook. It’s the same thing with agriculture. We are trying to get a late harvest off here. The corn is high in moisture to start with and now that’s shut off,” Roesch explained. “It relates to other things on top of that. The elevators will start to get plugged with corn because they can’t load cars to get them out.”

Besides being needed for crops,  Roesch said there are other critical impacts that can be felt if propane is unavailable, including hurting livestock and poultry operations.

“Broiler and turkey barns, those barns are all heated. When you’re starting all those chicks out and you need that heat, and you don’t have that heat, you’ve got a massive problem,” he said.

According to Roesch, if the strike is resolved in a reasonable time frame, local farmers may be able to bounce back. However, he said it may not be the same story for farmers in other parts of the country.

“We’re not as bad in this area compared to further north where they get tons and tons of snow,” he explained. “We’ll still have some time, if they get this stuff rectified, to get a crop off. But there’s a lot of this province that will probably not get their crop off this year.”

In the meantime, Roesch said it’s a waiting game for farmers at this point. He described the situation as an added stress and just another obstacle that those working in agriculture often have to overcome. Like many farming groups across Canada, Roesch said the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is working hard to get their concerns dealt with. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has also created a campaign on its website, asking people to send a letter to local MPs, urging that the strike comes to an end.

“The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is definitely involved,” he said. “We’re definitely in contact trying to get some type of movement so they’ll at least move propane along one way or another, even if they’ve got to get it on competitive rails. It has to start moving.”