Inside Logistics

Great Lakes-Seaway volumes rise on grain demand

Canadian ports and the St. Lawrence Seaway saw increasing cargo shipments in June fueled by grain exports, agricultural inputs and construction materials


July 16, 2020
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A cargo vessels passes through the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Photo supplied by The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation

Canadian ports and the St. Lawrence Seaway reported improving cargo shipments in June fueled by grain exports, agricultural inputs and a recovery in construction materials.

The St. Lawrence Seaway reported that cargo tonnage from April 1 through June 30 through the bi-national transportation corridor totaled nearly 11.7 million tonnes. While these volumes are down eight percent compared to the same time period in 2019, cargo shipments improved in June narrowing the year-over-year decline.

“Canadian grain exports through our trade corridor accelerated in June but we also saw improvements in shipments of construction materials such as stone, cement and gypsum as COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted,” said Terence Bowles president and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

“That being said, steep declines in shipments of steel-making materials and petroleum products remain, reflecting the challenges faced by the manufacturing and energy sectors. There is still a way to go for recovery.”

Year-to-date Canadian grain exports continued to flourish, up 11.26 percent from the same time period in 2019.

The Port of Thunder Bay is benefiting from the grain demand in Europe and the Middle East; year-to-date shipments of grain totaling 3.3 million tonnes are 35 percent above the five-year average. The Port expects to see these above-average grain shipments continue through the summer.

“One benefit of the increase in grain volumes is that shippers start to build efficiencies into the system, incentivizing them to continue using the system in future periods,” said Tim Heney, CEO at the Port of Thunder Bay.

The Windsor Port Authority also saw numerous grain shipments in June, contributing to an overall cargo tonnage increase of 2.4 percent for the month compared to last year. Total year-to-date tonnage is down 7.5 percent compared to last year, however this is an improvement from May 2020’s total.

Regarding June’s increase over May totals, Steve Salmons, president and CEO of Port Windsor said, “Grain shipments continue to exceed the prior year while aggregate shipments continue to recover from the early-year impact of COVID-19’s delay for construction projects.”

The Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA) is also beginning to see some commodities rebound into positive growth territory within their network of ports, such as gypsum, finished steel, fertilizer and potash for use on southern Ontario farmland. The year-to-date totals for these agricultural-sector commodities were up about nine percent through June compared to the same period last year.

“The fact that we are seeing more fertilizer coming through the ports of Hamilton and Oshawa is a good signal of confidence in the region’s agricultural production going forward,” said Ian Hamilton, HOPA Ports’ president and CEO.

“We expect to see this translate into accelerated exports of Ontario grain and soybeans later in the season.”

Marine cargo volumes at the Port of Johnstown for the first half of 2020 are up 12 percent over the same period last year.

“We have seen increases in road salt shipments as municipalities in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec stockpile after the winter.  We have also had a large shipment of aggregate,” says Robert Dalley, general manager for the Port of Johnstown, which is located in the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“For the first half of 2020 we are seeing our revenues a little under 2019, however, with two corn import vessels booked (one for August and one for September) and with the harvest looking like it could be a banner year, we are feeling very positive about our position. With the recent expansion project at the port including the addition of a monster 16,000 mt grain bin, we have ample capacity to handle a big harvest.  The recent rains in our area in the past couple of days are much needed and will certainly help with the quality and size of harvest.”