Volumes up | Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Thunder Bay experiencing increased traffic
EDMONTON — Grain and oilseed movement across the West has not been hurt by the deregulation of western Canadian wheat markets, says the company that monitors prairie grain transportation.
Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum Corp., told members of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association that concerns about disrupted grain flows and poor railway performance and delivery bottlenecks have not materialized since the elimination of single desk marketing last August.
Instead, volumes during the first 23 weeks of the 2012-13 crop year are up 2.9 percent at Vancouver, 10.4 percent at Prince Rupert and 7.9 percent at Thunder Bay, compared to four-year mean volumes.
Only Churchill has seen reduced traffic.
Year-to-date shipments through the northern Manitoba port stand at 421,000 tonnes, down nearly 21 percent from the four-year mean of 531,000 tonnes.
“All in all, it would appear that things have started off really well,” said Hemmes.
“All of the calamities and problems that people thought were possibly going to happen right off the bat have not revealed themselves.”
Hemmes said Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway were well prepared to move new crop to port, and rail performance has met expectations apart from a few temporary blips.
“It was apparent that both railways were prepared for this,” he said.
There was some uncertainty before last August about whether grain flow patterns would change in the new marketing environment.
Some predicted more grain would flow into the United States, while others projected changing traffic patterns and different users of terminal facilities in Canada and the United States.
Hemmes said the increased traffic through Thunder Bay has been the most notable change.
Grain car unloads at the Great Lakes port were up 30 percent during the first 23 weeks of 2012-13 compared to the previous four years.
“I think part of it is that companies have made a conscious decision that they wanted to start using some of those assets in Thunder Bay more than they have been,” he said.
“You’ve got Richardson and Viterra both with major assets in Thunder Bay and a big part of what ran through there in the past has been controlled by the Canadian Wheat Board. Those grain companies, I think, are more focused on increasing their utilization.”
Hemmes said new vessels are also working the Great Lakes.
International shipping lines have invested in smaller ocean-going vessels that can pick up directly out of Thunder Bay.
On the West Coast, terminals saw an increase in durum shipments this year.
Low ocean freight rates and the availability of vessels on the West Coast have prompted grain companies to look at alternate routes to overseas markets.
Contrary to some expectations, producer car shipments are also up. The 2,053 cars shipped during the first quarter of 2012-13 is a 14 percent increase from the same period last year.
WCWG chair Gerrid Gust said delivery opportunities and grain flows in his area suggest the transition to an open market has been smooth.
“I think the system has adapted,” said Gust, who farms near Davidson, Sask.
“As an industry, we’ve moved more grain than ever and there hasn’t been a whole lot of hang-ups, all the way from rail to port.”
Rolf Penner, a wheat grower from Morris, Man., said there have been no marketing problems to speak of on his farm.
Prices on both sides of the Canada- U.S. border are competitive and delivery opportunities have been good.
“On our farm, it’s been a very, very smooth transition,” said Penner.
“You always think that when something this big happens that there’s going to be some hiccups here and there, but there haven’t been any hiccups at all and I think that speaks to the professionalism of the entire grain industry.”