Churchill, Man. | CNS Canada — Grain loading has started on the first vessel of the season to reach Manitoba’s northern Port of Churchill.
The Clipper Bettina arrived at the Hudson Bay port Sunday and began receiving grain Wednesday.
The vessel is to leave for Africa within days, with 36,000 tonnes of hard red spring wheat, and make its first delivery to Kenya among several other stops on the continent.
Grain firm Richardson International is behind the first shipment of the year. Company wheat merchant Jerry Trenouth said Richardson likes moving grain through Churchill due to its accessibility, export-wise.
“The Port of Churchill is geographically closer to the Prairie farmer. So there’s less logistics to get it to an export terminal.”
Working with the port is not without its share of challenges. “The season is a bit shorter,” he said.
“Our harvest starts coming off in September, so we can really only ship from the Prairie farmer in a very short window.”
In many cases, though, working with Churchill is cheaper, he said.
Churchill typically sees its first shipment in early August, but had a later start this year to lower the cost of maintenance on the track, according to port officials.
Jeff McEachern, executive director of the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation, said it also had to do with high supplies and low demand within the global grain market.
“I’ve talked to other port terminals and people in the industry and they’re saying the same thing,” he said, adding that “the grain isn’t moving as quickly as we would like.”
Up until about a week ago, he said, they were still unloading last year’s grain.
The Hudson Strait, which links Hudson Bay with the Atlantic Ocean, also poses a mix of challenges. It’s beneficial to guide vessels through safely, but also freezes often.
Cooler temperatures, however, lower the cost of maintaining the rail line through northern Manitoba, said Merv Tweed, president of OmniTrax Canada, the railway company that operates the port.
In running trains over the tundra, he said, “when it firms up, it stays firm.”
The port is budgeting for a 500,000-tonne grain season in 2015, Tweed said earlier in August. Last year the port handled 540,000 tonnes of grain.
The port is expected to operate until about Nov. 6, weather permitting.
— Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @jade_markus on Twitter.