Grain car order fullfilment
MAR 24, 2023

Improved Collaboration Drives Grain Supply Chain Results

In its 2022-23 Grain Plan, CN’s guidance to customers and grain supply chain stakeholders was that on a sustainable basis, CN could deliver up to 744,000 metric tonnes per week of shipments of grain and processed grain products outside of winter, and up to 595,000 metric tonnes per week during winter. Being able to achieve those levels requires having all the conditions in place, including no mainline disruptions, fluidity across grain shipment corridors, normal winter operating conditions, and other considerations.

For the most part, those conditions have been present – and the results speak for themselves. CN has achieved record weekly grain shipment results in 12 of the first 32 weeks of the crop year. There have also been 18 weeks where customer demand for grain movement was insufficient to meet grain supply chain capacity levels. In the first eight weeks of the crop year, demand was low compared to normal due to limited carry-in stocks given the impact of drought on grain production in western Canada. January saw demand for CN-equipment fall below normal levels due in part to the impact of record Australian grain productive affecting the relative competitiveness of western Canadian in international markets.

Weekly shipments of grain and processed grain products from western Canada on CN versus maximum end-to-end sustainable supply chain capacity guidance


Graph 1

It’s not just about how much grain is moving every week – consistency is important to CN’s customers and grain supply chain stakeholders. CN has been consistently supplying 90 to 100 per cent of planned and confirmed CN-supplied car orders within the week they were requested or within one to three days after the end of the want week. That’s translating into strong and steady grain movement.

CN-supplied hopper car order fulfillment 2022-23 crop year to-date


Graph 2

Unlike other grain industry reporting, CN’s Weekly Western Canadian Grain Report gets into the “why” of what’s going on in the supply chain. CN has been producing this report since the 2016-17 crop year and it gets into a lot of detail. Up front there is a supply chain dashboard that illustrates how the supply chain is doing, and it ties back to all the conditions required to achieve maximum supply chain capacity.

Week 31 grain supply chain dashboard – conditions required to achieve CN’s maximum sustainable grain supply chain capacity guidance

green box Sufficient customer demand to reach guidance levels 

yellow box Grain supply chain fluidity across all major corridors

yellow box  Grain export terminal fluidity — West

green box Grain export terminal fluidity — East

yellow box Corridor balance

Seven-day continuous operations at all major grain
export facilities

Ability to load vessels during inclement weather
green box Normal winter rail operating conditions
green box No mainline disruptions or other major supply chain disruptions green box No labour disruptions
green box No material COVID-related impacts on the supply chain

Accompanying the dashboard is detail about why the individual components of dashboard are colour-coded the way they are for that week. The end-to-end supply chain is a lot more complicated than a 100% pass or fail exam. All the links in the chain need to be working together to deliver results and each part of the supply chain needs to communicate with their partners to work through challenges when they arise. Loading delays at origin, a mainline disruption between the Prairies and the port, or vessel loading delays due to inclement weather at West Coast ports all have real impacts on the end-to-end supply chain.

If you don’t have that information to go along with car order fulfillment information, you don’t have the whole picture.

CN also packages the weekly grain supply chain reporting into its monthly Grain Plan updates. This document serves as a monthly record of what has been happening in the supply chain, relative to CN’s yearly Grain Plan and Winter Plan targets.

Heading into the 2022-23 crop year, CN CEO Tracy Robinson pushed the railway to get back to basics. That meant running a scheduled operation, aligning capacity with demand, and working closely with our customers and stakeholders to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the full supply chain. Our partners responded with more communication at the operational level and increased collaboration to resolve challenges when they arose. The result has been improved productivity and a more resilient grain supply chain. Working together, CN and its customers have achieved record or near record results throughout the fall and winter shipping season.