OTTAWA – Catastrophic flooding in British Columbia has cut critical roads and rail lines, meaning prairie farmers risk being affected by delays in getting their grain to market.

“The impact for us is the outgoing grain – and this is a peak shipping season,” said Barry Prentice, University of Manitoba professor of supply chain management.

“It’s our biggest export corridor, so everything that happens there has an impact along the line.”

“It may well last until the New Year.”

This week’s floods and landslides swept away major routes used by CP Rail and CN Rail to connect the Port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada, as well as major highways used for freight transportation. British Columbia has declared a province-wide state of emergency.

Manitobans could pay more for consumer goods, Prentice said.

“We might not feel the strong point of it, but this thing has a macro effect, affecting the whole country,” he said.

Prentice said supermarkets in Manitoba are primarily supplied by trucks, which ship products from California and northern Mexico. Weather events in British Columbia are unlikely to reduce the amount of food reaching the province, but “these kinds of transportation issues tend to drive up fares.”

He added that goods arriving from Asia could be delayed, in addition to the current arrears. COVID-19 has closed Chinese factories and created consumer demand that has resulted in a lack of available shipping containers.

Manitoba’s largest farm group said it was monitoring potential effects on the grain and ranching sectors, which suffered from the summer drought.

“There are supply chain issues here at every level for farmers,” Keystone Agricultural Producers spokesperson Graham Schellenberg said.

“Presumably, if the Port of Vancouver is unable to operate, it could put additional strain on other ports in Canada… and further pressure on the supply chain. ”

The Western Grain Elevator Association has said that a backlog can snowball, where shipping costs rise depending on how long the demand is turned back.

“It cascades further down the supply chain,” said industry spokesman Wade Sobkowich.

“It’s a continuum, and it’s exponential, so it’s very difficult to quantify it.”

The railways are analyzing the damage and have not provided any estimate of how long the repairs will take, although some outside analysts have suggested repairs could take up to two weeks.

The Port of Vancouver typically ships more grain than the other three major ports combined: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Churchill, northern Manitoba.

Sobkowich said customers order grain six to nine months in advance, making it difficult to transfer shipments to another port when a flour mill in China has already paid for a grain shipment.

Prentice said Canadian supply chains should prepare for even more disruptive weather events made worse by climate change as governments attempt to reverse global warming.

“This is the kind of thing that happens (the pipe) and I don’t know what you can do to protect yourself personally,” he said.

Sobkowich said that in the long run, grain companies may choose to ship a larger share of grain to Europe and the United States, to account for the additional risk of disruptive forest fires and flooding in British Columbia.

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