Grain supply network performing smoothly

An early harvest slowed farmer deliveries to the elevator, but movement picked up during week four of the new crop year

Canada’s grain handling and transportation systems look to be operating smoothly despite smaller-than-average export shipments during the first month of the 2018-19 crop year.

“So far, so good,” said Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum Corp., the Edmonton company contracted to monitor commercial grain movements in Western Canada.

“We were a little bit concerned (in late August) because we saw (west coast) vessel counts bounce up a bit, but they came back down this week and things are really starting to roll off now.

“It would appear that (things are starting to move) and I think we’re going to start to see (rail car) unload numbers really start to jump up.”

Early in the marketing year, the pace of western Canadian grain movement is typically dictated by farmers’ schedules.

In August, growers across much of the West were already harvesting early seeded crops and preparing for the busy fall season.

As a result, the pace of farmer deliveries was relatively slow during the first few weeks of the 2018-19 crop year.

However, harvest delays in the latter part of August and early September allowed many farmers to turn their efforts to marketing and hauling grain.

In Week 4 of the new crop year, growers delivered 1.2 million tonnes of grain to country elevator locations, up from 825,000 tonnes the previous week.

“It was a really good week for deliveries,” Hemmes said.

Car order fulfilment numbers supplied by the Ag Transport Coalition also suggest that the major rail companies — Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway — are fulfilling the majority of their orders in a timely fashion.

In Week 4, CN fulfilled 98 percent of its car orders on time.

CP’s Week 4 performance was 84 percent, according to ATC.

“Those numbers are right up there so that’s a good sign,” Hemmes said.

But all that said, it’s really too early to tell how things are going to shape up, he added.

System fluidity is usually not a major issue until later in the crop year, when winter weather conditions affect train operations and west coast ship-loading efforts.

The industry is also waiting for more clarity on the size of this year’s crop and on carry-out inventories.

“Insofar as how we are starting off — we are starting off really good,” Hemmes said.

“But there’s a whole bunch of questions that don’t have answers yet — most importantly, what are the carry-forward stocks going to be and what are we looking at in terms of total production.”

Statistics Canada’s latest production estimates pegged the Canadian canola harvest at 19.2 million tonnes and all-wheat production at 29 million tonnes.

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