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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says rail backlog of grain increasingly serious

REGINA - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says a rail backlog that has left a bumper crop of grain still sitting in some fields is increasingly serious.

Last year was a record harvest — up about 20 million tonnes — and Wall acknowledges that makes it more difficult to move the crop in a timely way. But he says there's reason for more concern every day.

"Part of the reason why this is frustrating for all the stakeholders (is that) it's very difficult for us to focus in on the problem and then just come up with a plan to fix the problem," Wall said Wednesday at the legislature.

"It's a combination of things. Is it the need for more locomotives? Is it the need for more people working in the rail system? Has there been a lot of rain when you can't load at the port, even though there are ships waiting and port capacity?

"It's probably all of the above complicated by something that's very positive — a record harvest."

Wall says the transportation problem needs to be solved now and for the long -term because it's probable that larger crop sizes will become the new normal.

"The likelihood of bigger, larger harvests going forward for Saskatchewan and other western provinces ... is pretty good because of varieties, because of new technology, because of new farming techniques."

Walls said it's an urgent issue for farmers, who "would like to get paid for their hard work."

He said he's asked Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart to contact rail companies to see what can be done to move more grain. The issue is also to be on the agenda when British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan meet in March, said Wall.

The federal government and several grain producer groups — including the Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Canola Growers Association, the Western Grain Elevators Association and the Inland Terminals Association of Canada — are splitting the cost of a $3-million, five-year study aimed at finding solutions to the backlog.

Frustrated farmers called on the federal government to address the backlog that became so bad that mountains of wheat and other crops were building up outside jammed grain elevators.

The problem left many farmers wondering what the point of a bumper crop is if they are unable to get the grain to market.

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