The federal government is putting a positive spin on grain shipments through the Port of Churchill, which are down 17 percent this crop year.
Agriculture Canada said in a Dec. 12 news release that more than 432,000 tonnes of grain were moved through the northern port during the 2012 shipping season, close to the port’s historical 10-year average.
Those figures were supplied by the Port of Churchill via Transport Canada.
The Churchill shipping season normally starts in late July or early August and concludes in late October or early November.
However, data collected by the Canadian Grain Commission paints a different picture.
It says grain exports from the port totalled 421,000 tonnes in the first 19 weeks of the 2012-13 crop year, including 298,000 tonnes of spring wheat.
That is down significantly from the same period last year, when 508,000 tonnes of grain left the port, including 450,000 tonnes of spring wheat and 58,000 tonnes of durum.
The port’s five-year average from 2007-08 to 2011-12 is 542,000 tonnes between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31.
Grain movement at the northern Manitoba port became a politically sensitive issue last year after Ottawa announced it would take legislative steps to end the CWB’s single desk marketing structure.
Supporters of single desk marketing, particularly those from Manitoba, said eliminating the CWB’s marketing monopoly for spring wheat and durum would hurt grain volumes moving through Churchill.
The CWB was easily the biggest shipper of grain at the port, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of total grain volumes each year.
To address concerns related to Churchill’s grain traffic, the federal government unveiled a five-year, $25 million program aimed at enticing grain companies to use the Arctic port.
The Churchill Port Utilization Program (CPUP), which was introduced in April 2012, offers a shipping subsidy of $9 per tonne to grain companies that ship grain, oilseeds, pulses and special crops through the port.
The subsidies are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with $5 million available each year for the next five years.
Three companies have qualified for payments under the program: CWB, Richardson International and Nearco Transportation Consulting of Dugald, Man.
Information posted on Agriculture Canada’s website shows that Richardson received program payments worth $2.35 million while the CWB received $1.57 million and Nearco received $225,000.
Those figures suggest Richardson was Churchill’s largest grain customer in 2012-13, accounting for 55 to 60 percent of the port’s total grain business.
CGC statistics suggest the 421,000 tonnes shipped this crop year represent the lowest total since 2004-05, when slightly more than 400,000 tonnes were moved between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31.
Agriculture Canada said traffic shipments through the Manitoba facility remain strong and are close to the 10-year historical average.