Grain shipments made more gains in April

Grain shipments increased 8.1 percent in April compared to the previous month, Canada’s grain monitor reported in its April report.

Quorum Corp.’s report, released last week, said 5.5 million tonnes were shipped last month, which compared to March’s 5.1 million tonnes.

That lifted year-to-date shipments to almost 42.2 million tonnes, a 2.1 percent increase from the 41.3 million tonnes forwarded during the same nine-month period last year.

“All in all, we’ve seen a fair bit of improvement,” said Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum.

“On the negative side, we still have an issue with container movements, but other than that, I think right across the board, it’s looking pretty good.”

Hemmes said even though shipments have improved overall, volumes moving West still have some catching up to do.

According to Quorum, the number of cars unloaded was down by 0.1 percent in Vancouver and down by 10.6 percent in the northern British Columbia port of Prince Rupert, when compared to last year.

He said he expected the situation there will improve through May and June.

Hemmes said western ports had been more heavily affected as railways, particularly Canadian National, faced one calamity after another.

The late harvest, CN strike, bad weather and rail blockades made it difficult for trains to move.

“Week 28 was looking pretty dismal, but in the 12 weeks that followed after that, we’ve seen remarkable improvements. Railways kicked it up a notch,” Hemmes said.

“And, with this pandemic, grain is the only commodity that has had normal or higher-than-normal volume levels. Everything else is down, and that benefits farmers and the grain industry.”

Port shipments for April totalled 3.8 million tonnes, a 23.6 percent increase from March volumes, according to Quorum.

It said Thunder Bay shipments picked up after navigation opened on the seaway.

Year-to-date bulk shipments from western ports were 0.9 percent higher in April than the previous year.

Vessels spent an average of 13.1 days in port in April.

Hemmes said vessel counts have declined.

There was an enormous backlog in February, with 55 vessels waiting at the West Coast. Latest figures show there are on average 32 vessels waiting.

Even though space was tight, Hemmes said it’s positive to see many primary elevators up and running. Shipments have increased by 2.9 percent when compared to the same time last year.

Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association, said earlier this month that western Canadian grain handlers have seen record or near-record grain movement throughout most of March and April.

“We’ve been moving more grain than we have in a long time, and in some cases — depending on the railway and the terminal facility — we’ve been moving more than ever,” he said.

Quorum said average weekly primary elevator stocks decreased by 3.3 percent from the same time last year. The average days-in-store was down 4.4 percent.

Average weekly port-terminal stocks decreased 0.1 percent from the same period last year, while average days-in-store climbed 8.7 percent.

Rail-car cycle times continued to drop.

Quorum reported cars cycled at 14.8 days in April. In March, they cycled at 17.1 days.

“Car cycles really came down,” Hemmes said. “All the numbers we watch closely have really adjusted.”

Wheat (including durum) and canola continue to make up the largest proportion of movement, taking 73.9 percent of the share. Movement of peas and lentils was relatively consistent in April, constituting 12.3 percent of the total.

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