As the harvest season comes to a close, Manitoba farmers are facing yet another challenge – a strike at the St. Lawrence Seaway stalling shipments for a third straight day.
More than 350 union workers are off the job fighting for better wages.
The Seaway connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes and is a crucial trading port that sees 11 million tonnes of grain from the prairies pass through every year.
It is a vital vessel for farmers like Eric McLean, who owns Ben Ledi Farm Ltd. in Oak River.
“[The strike is] going to hurt the community and it’s going to hurt the whole logistical system,” McLean said.
He noted there is no direct impact right now, but come winter, farmers will be feeling the heat and paying the price.
“What it’s going to do is severely impact the revenue that’s going to be generated,” McLean says. “The ice will form and the vessels won’t be able to be loaded and sailing. So in that regard, we have a month or two left that they can actually operate proficiently at.”
With the harvest season wrapping up, experts say the strike could lead to system backlogs and storage issues.
“That falls back down onto the producer who now has to store any excess grain that they can’t deliver on time because there’s no storage capacity at the elevators,” said Brenna Mahoney, general manager of Keystone Agricultural Producers.
Other materials moved in bulk such as iron ore, salt and oil may also be affected.
“To the degree that that material comes in, that would be delayed or maybe it could be lost for the season,” said Barry Prentice, the director of the University of Manitoba Transport Institute. “We don’t know how long this will last.”
Ongoing recovery efforts after the pandemic and last summer’s port strike in Vancouver are amplifying concerns.
“I think it just spells more uncertainty, more economic hardship for Manitoba companies and producers,” said Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
Another hardship is the strike’s impact on the province and country when it comes to their reputations as reliable suppliers.
“We become the market of last choice for some of these other exporting nations because of our lack of dependability,” Mahoney said.
Prentice said he doesn’t expect the strike to last very long, but recognized the impact the weeks-long Vancouver port strike had on the economy.
“Every day of the strike adds a week to the time it takes to clear up the backlog,” he says.
As union workers on the St. Lawrence Seaway push on with their protest for better pay, McLean is hopeful there will be a resolution soon, allowing farmers to get back to business as usual.
“We’ve ducked and covered in bad situations [in] the past and hopefully we’ll be able to get our way through these ones as well,” he said.
Prentice also pointed to issues of inflation, higher interest rates and the rising cost of living as the fuel of these fights by workers. He added that he doesn’t expect the St. Lawrence Seaway strike to be the last.
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