Farmers eager to get harvest back on track

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End of CN strike means grain farmers can finally get propane needed to dry crops

By: Darren Major

Grain farmers in eastern Ontario and western Quebec say they’re relieved the week-long CN Rail strike has come to an end, and are hoping to resume the harvest as soon as they’re resupplied with the propane they need to dry their crops.

“[It’s] an absolute great relief we’ll finally be able to save our crops, although it’s going to take a few days to get the propane guys to reorganize and get things back on track,” said Mike Verdonck, whose farm in western Quebec is about 125 kilometres east of Ottawa.

Verdonck was concerned about losing his crop when his supply of propane, which is shipped by rail, was cut off by the strike.

Teamsters Canada reached a tentative deal with CN Rail on Tuesday morning, ending the strike and establishing an agreement-in-principle to renew the collective agreement for more than 3,000 railway workers.

CN’s normal operations resumed Wednesday morning.

Had the strike continued much longer, Verdonck said more than 200 tonnes of wet corn he’d already harvested would have gone to ruin.

“I know it’s going to be hard because everybody’s going to be pulling on the rope for propane, but if I could get just a little bit so I can dry that 200 tonnes I got stuck in my silos, that’d be wonderful,” Verdonck said.

‘Living on hope’

Verdonck said he expects a shipment of propane within the week, but it may take a couple more for regular shipments to resume.

The farmer had resorted to moving the corn from one silo to another to prevent it from sitting too long, as well as sending some of his crop off to a drying facility that uses natural gas instead of propane.

Luckily, the cold temperatures also helped.

“If it’s hot … I would’ve probably lost that corn,” he said. “But since the nights were cold I was able to … at least buy myself a few days.”

Verdonck will also need to turn his attention to the corn he hasn’t harvested. He stopped rolling his combines because without his dryers running he had nowhere to store the grain.

While it’s pretty late in the year to harvest, Verdonck said he’s optimistic the crop can be saved.

“We’re really living on hope right now in the sense that it still looks harvestable,” he said. 

Verdonck said the strike has forced him to cancel a family trip to Florida, but at least he now has a chance to finish the harvest before Christmas.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to have holidays with our families, because it was looking like we were [going to have] to cancel a lot of holiday parties,” he said.

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