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Lower water levels affecting Canadian crop shipments

Lower water levels affecting Canadian crop shipments

Lighter available cargo loads mean greater demand and increased costs for port storage with longer delays for farmers to be paid.

By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image via www.greatlakes-seaway.com

Although the lower river levels of the Mississippi River are perhaps better documented as affecting the movement of product into and through the US, Canada’s St. Lawrence River is also experiencing its shortcomings.

The St. Lawrence River route with ports on both the US and Canadian sides moves a lot of agricultural products—about 40 percent of the Seaway’s trade. Note that the St. Lawrence route also moves cargo down via the Mississippi into the US, and vice versa.

However, the water levels of the St. Lawrence River/Seway have gone down recently, with forecasting suggesting it will decline further.

The low water levels are being blamed on a lower-than-usual rate of precipitation along the river system, a lower-than-average water level in Lake Ontario, and a higher outflow of water at the Moses-Saunders Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River that is located between Massena, New York, and Cornwall, Ontario.

Because of the lower water levels along the river, cargo ships are reducing the amount of load they can carry to remain higher—more buoyant—along it to prevent the ships from ripping out their keel.

Because of the smaller load capacity, more and more cargo is being forced into storage—already full when larger loads were being shipped—creating a shortage of storage space and the corresponding increase in storage rates—at ports along the river to the Atlantic.

Although the Ontario corn harvest was slightly better than average in 2022, the dry, mild weather allowed it to be harvested more readily.

Unfortunately, because most of the province’s corn harvest is exported, it is now stuck in limbo in port storage facilities awaiting the opportunity to ship—and it may be a long wait, which means a delay in payment to the Ontario farmer.

The only good news is that Canadian and American officials are in the midst of determining if they should increase water flow at the eastern area of Lake Ontario to raise levels in the St. Lawrence River, which will allow for heavier-laden cargo ships to travel.

No decision has yet been rendered regarding the raising of the water levels.


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