Prairie grain exports off last year’s pace

The amount of prairie grain that’s been shipped from Canadian export terminals to overseas destinations is down significantly from last year, according to figures from the federally appointed Grain Monitoring Program.

GMP data released by Quorum Corp. last week shows that shipments of all grain and oilseeds from Vancouver during the first two months of the 2016-17 crop year were down 14 percent compared to 2015-16.

Shipments were down more than 20 percent in Prince Rupert, B.C., and 100 percent in Churchill after port owner OmniTrax Canada suspended its grain export program earlier this year.

The only export route that showed a year-over-year increase was Thunder Bay, which saw a seven percent increase in shipments to 1.69 million tonnes from 1.58 million tonnes last year.

Wheat exports are particularly slow.

Shipments of non-durum milling wheat at Vancouver and Prince Rupert during the first 10 weeks of the crop year dropped 25 percent to slightly less than 1.7 million tonnes this year from more than 2.2 million tonnes last year.

Industry stakeholders say this year’s slower pace is the result of a slow and prolonged prairie harvest that has been plagued by rain, snow and generally poor weather conditions.

The shipment figures were made public last week as farmers across the Prairies struggled to bring in what was expected to be one of the largest harvests in western Canadian history.

Industry estimates have pegged this year’s prairie harvest at nearly 75 million tonnes — the second largest volume ever.

Total exports of western Canadian grains and oilseeds are expected to come in at 36 to 38 million tonnes, according to the Western Grain Elevators Association.

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“It’s a more prolonged harvest, and there’s more work involved in blending (grain) to meet customers’ specifications,” said WGEA executive director Wade Sobkowich.

“So it’s naturally been more drawn out from a shippers perspective as well.”

Earlier this year, grain industry observers were stressing the need for farmers, shippers and railway companies to get an early jump on shipping this year’s crop.

At the time, it was assumed that steady and efficient grain movements early in the crop year would be necessary to minimize the impact of potential supply chain bottlenecks that often occur in the cold winter months, which are not conducive to efficient rail movement.

At this point, however, it appears that shipping is off to a relatively slow start, at least compared to last year’s pace.

Last week, Canadian Pacific Railway issued a news release announcing that it intends to highlight supply chain accountability by preparing a weekly supply chain score card.

“Despite forecasts for a record or near-record crop and CP’s early preparations, as a result of the delayed harvest year-to-date, CP has moved less Canadian grain than in 2014-15 and less than the three-year average,” the Oct. 14 news release said.

“We remain committed to working with the supply chain to move Canadian grain to market, as opposed to the finger-pointing of the past,” said CP’s chief executive officer, Hunter Harrison.

“Our new supply chain score card will help tell that story while holding us and the rest of the supply chain accountable.

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“While CP is just one part of the global supply chain, we are taking a leadership role in ensuring the supply chain works together so that the Canadian economy — including farmers and shippers — reaps maximum benefit.”

CP said it will launch its weekly supply chain score card on Oct. 19 at www.cpr.ca/grain.

The score card will outline CP’s performance for the previous grain week and include detailed information on any internal or external factors affecting grain movement.

Greg Northey, director of industry relations with Pulse Canada, said his organization and other ag shipping groups welcome CP’s report.

“We look forward to seeing it, for sure,” said Northey, who also acts as project manager for the Ag Transport Coalition, a group of agricultural shippers that monitors railway performance.

“Part of the reason why the Ag Transport Coalition started its work was to try to get some openness and transparency into (shipping) data … so this (CP’s weekly supply chain report card) is a positive development.… Whether the data they provide is useful or whether it actually provides the kind of information that we would see as valuable for the supply chain, that remains to be seen.”

ATC said in its latest weekly performance update that CP was supplying 80 percent of the hopper cars requested by grain shippers on time.

By comparison, Canadian National Railway was supplying 95 percent of the hopper cars requested during the week they were requested, ATC said.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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