(Resource News International) — Grain shipments out of the Port of Churchill, Man. are expected to be consistent with numbers exported in the 2009 calendar year, but according to an official with the Churchill Gateway Development Corp., those numbers could potentially rise depending on the weather in Canada’s grainbelt.
In 2009, 530,000 tonnes of grain were shipped to numerous destinations in the Atlantic from Churchill, and the estimate for total grain shipments in 2010 is over 500,000 tonnes, according to Bill Drew, the CGDC’s executive director.
In 2008, 425,000 tonnes of Canadian Wheat Board grains were moved through the Hudson Bay port, compared to 650,000 tonnes in 2007. Volumes of grain shipment fluctuate based on the timing of harvest in Western Canada, as well as the total amount of grain produced.
David Przednowek, manager of ocean freight and internal operations at the CWB, explained that almost 100 per cent of the grain movement exported from Churchill comes from board grains.
“I would expect that we’re going to have another strong shipping season,” he said.
However, Drew said, if the weather turns around the tonnage shipped out of the port has the potential to escalate into the range of 700,000 tonnes.
“The weather that’s happening right now, if it pushes the harvest back it can affect us negatively. An early harvest helps support Churchill because we can (ship) the grain sooner,” said Drew.
“It really depends how things come together here weather-wise.”
Drew expects the port will see more inbound fertilizer shipments in 2010 as well. In 2009 the Port of Churchill didn’t have any inbound fertilizer movement compared to two shipments in 2008 and one in 2007.
“There wasn’t a big enough difference between (European prices and domestic prices) so it didn’t make sense to import (fertilizer) at that time,” said Drew, explaining why there was no fertilizer movement in 2009.
The port, owned by Denver-based railway firm OmniTRAX, typically does not experience a lot of inbound trade and is mainly used for Canadian exports due to the location, Przednowek said. “It’s a very unbalanced trade. Most of the movement is outward rather than inward.”
However, Drew explained, it’s the location of the port which makes it viable.
“Churchill is located very strategically for grain in northeastern Saskatchewan. We have a competitive advantage for moving that grain out of (that area),” he said, adding that the port also has a competitive edge for moving fertilizer inbound to the same location.
The port is also looking into moving pulse crops for the 2010 season, as well as purchasing a new ice-class salvage-capable tugboat, capable of sailing through icy waters and towing cargo ships, Drew said.
Such a tugboat would assist in bringing vessels in early and taking them out later, he said.
Also, improvements to the Hudson Bay Railway have been beneficial to Churchill, he said, adding that business to northern communities in Nunavut is expected to remain consistent.
The first ship of the 2010 season is expected to arrive at Churchill in the last week of July, Drew said, and the tentative closing date is about mid-November.
Every year, he noted, the port’s shipping season gets longer. In 2009 it opened July 27 and closed within the last week of October.
“Expectations are that the (2010) season won’t get off to a late start like it did last year,” Przednowek said. “There were ice conditions issues into the second week of August. So for (2010), given the conditions, one would expect the season to start earlier than it did last year.”
Churchill’s shipping season is shorter than for other ports in Canada due to ice on Hudson Bay. On occasion there has been an extension of the season with the help of icebreaker vessels. In 1995 grain was exported from Churchill in late November.