CHESTERVILLE — Hay West will have delivered 736 railcars and 135 truckloads of donated hay — nearly 70,000 bales — to drought-stricken prairie farmers before the dipping temperatures of autumn bring the effort to the end of the line.
The campaign will call it quits once daily temperatures drop to 5 C, which is too cold for the fumigation process aimed at the cereal leaf to work, according to Hay West general manager Pierre Brodeur.
There are no plans to resume Hay West in the spring, and organizers are already looking at holding some kind of wrap-up event.
Volunteers with Hay West "just can’t carry the mood for that long," said Brodeur, when asked if the campaign might pick up next year. "We decided to close shop."
The last time Brodeur spoke to The AgriNews, in late August, he was having difficulty sending187 federally-funded railcars on their way to Saskatchewan and Alberta because of bureaucratic holdups. Since then, those cars have shipped out from 21 stations across eastern Canada, and the federal government has committed an additional 190 cars. A further 72 have been donated by corporate sponsors, and a charitable campaign called ‘Say Hay’ in the western provinces has put up the money for 100 more.
Combined with 187 cars donated by CP and CN earlier in the campaign, it adds up to 736 carloads of eastern hay on track to aid western farmers. Three-hundred have already reached their destinations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. "Nearly 600 farmers have been helped so far," said Brodeur, who estimated that the mushrooming campaign could’ve shipped twice as many traincars.
The general manager was more resigned to the bureaucratic delays that have dogged the effort from the start, explaining that government and large rail companies "can’t turn on a dime." He added, however, that the experience was sometimes demoralizing for Hay West volunteers.
"We could not assign all the trains we wanted," he said. "For example, if I could open a station in Cornwall tomorrow, I could fill 40 cars."
In addition to CN and CP, officials within the federal departments of Transport, Agriculture and Agri-Food and Public Works all have varying degrees of involvement.
The campaign grew out of the kitchen-table effort of Navan-area farmers Wyatt and Willard McWilliams, friends of Brodeur, morphing into something much bigger than anyone anticipated, drawing hay from five provinces.
"The bureaucracy was very frustrating at times," said Brodeur. "It was very slow, the signing of contracts between the government and the rail companies, and the rail companies were reluctant in assigning new sites."
Betraying a bit of that frustration, he candidly remarked, "I know we’re perturbing their operations, but (expletive deleted) the operations of western farmers are being perturbed, too."
Although it is slightly more expensive, Hay West organizers have been opting to send some of the hay out west on trucks because of the flexibility involved. The hay is fumigated under tarps at the farm before it is picked up by a long-haul trucker and delivered directly to the recipient. Seventy-five trucks had already gone October 3, with another 60 being prepared. A firm based in Long Sault is brokering the trucked shipments.
Most train shipments have been arriving at two preferred stations on the prairies — Killam, Alberta and Biggar, Saskatchewan. Some of the loads have also gone to Wainwright, Alberta and Wilkie, Saskatchewan, said Dave Cameron, Hay West’s rail coordinator.
Smiths Falls leads 21 other stations in the number of cars shipped, with 120; however, Moncton NB will come a close second, with over 100. (Hay from Prince Edward Island is being handled through Moncton.)
Havelock, Ontario, has shipped 54.
Some of the other sites in Ontario include Pembroke, Kingston, Belleville, Sault Ste. Marie and Welland.
"Most sites have shipped 30 to 35 cars," said Cameron, who called the response in the east "phenomenal."
Lower seasonal temperatures have already increased the time required for the fumigation process from three days per batch to four. But Cameron is confident there will be enough fumigated hay on tap to fill the whole allotment of train cars, even in the event of a sudden cold snap.
In August, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency unexpectedly halted the launch of the first Hay West train in Brockville, telling frustrated organizers that any shipments had to be fumigated to kill the cereal leaf beetle, a crop pest that doesn’t exist in Alberta. The $25 per tonne cost has been picked up by Ottawa.
More than $500,000 in cash has been raised in a fund set aside to cover some of the costs of individuals who volunteer to transport hay from farms to the train stations. In Dundas County, Jack Durant of Chesterville has been heavily involved with trucking hay to Smiths Falls. "He’s done an awful lot," said Brodeur.
Dundas Federation of Agriculture president Corry Martens said that Dundas County farmers alone were responsible for approximately 1,000 bales at the Smiths Falls staging area.