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Strong Great Lakes, Seaway Grain Shipments Expected to Continue

The grain-fueled surge in Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway shipping is likely to continue right through until the end of the navigation season and into spring 2021, according to the Ottawa-based Chamber of Marine Commerce.
“Canadian grain has been in high demand all year, and the increases in U.S. grain shipments over the last few months has contributed to the burst of activity this fall. Looking at the figures of salties (ocean vessels) and domestic carriers in the water, December will certainly be busy,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.
Canadian domestic fleets are booked out and the number of ocean-going vessels currently in the seaway system is about 20% higher than the five-year average, the chamber said in a release last week.
Grain exports - including both Canadian and U.S. products - have been the enduring bright spot throughout the current shipping season, offsetting significant declines in other commodities – with total grain movement through November hitting 10.9 million tonnes, up 23% over 2019. On the other hand, year-to-date shipments of iron ore (-13%), dry bulk (-15%) and liquid bulk (-36%) remain down.
Another positive sign for the supply chain is the extension of the Welland Canal season to Jan. 8, which is part of a five-year pilot project. Canadian ship operators will be using this time for final deliveries of salt, iron ore and grain for manufacturing, food production and municipal customers.
Meanwhile, the size of Canada’s 2020 wheat harvest, the second largest on record, bodes well for the start of the next shipping season in the spring.
“Conditions are ripe for a solid start to the 2021 season, as Prairie grain yields were strong again this fall, and demand for Canadian grain remains high, particularly in Europe,” said Tim Heney, President and CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority.
The Port of Thunder Bay was visited by over 30 Canadian lakers and 20 salties in November, with another strong lineup in December. This will result in a 20-year cargo tonnage high at the Port, as November shipments were once again above normal, with more than 1 million tonnes of grain loaded at its elevators headed for destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
At the Windsor Port Authority, grain continues to surpass all previous records, up 16% over last year with a 17% increase in foreign vessels exporting Canadian grain.
The Port of Johnstown is also predicting a great end to the year thanks to a strong Ontario grain harvest, which doubled the amount of grain shipped in November (80,000 tonnes) compared to November 2019. Year-to-date the Port has processed roughly 175,000 tonnes of grain, a 20% increase over last year.
And while steelmaking and petroleum products remain lower this year, strong showings in commodities like grain, fertilizer, finished steel, salt and gypsum have made up the balance for the Port of Hamilton. The Port expects the final tonnage total will be in the neighbourhood of 10 million tonnes by season close.
The smaller Port of Oshawa is on track for its best year ever, with cargo exceeding 600,000 tonnes for the first time, driven by strong trade in fertilizer, grain, steel and cement.
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