Grain drives Thunder Bay’s successful year

Grain volumes at the Port of Thunder Bay last exceeded nine million tonnes in a single shipping season in 1997. | Port of Thunder Bay photo

Officials with the Port of Thunder Bay say the 2020 shipping season was the port’s most successful in more than two decades.

The northern Ontario port moved nearly 10.2 million tonnes of cargo in 2020, up from 9.3 million tonnes in 2019.

Higher grain volumes were a key driver behind the port’s improved cargo volumes.

In 2020, Thunder Bay grain terminals shipped more than 9.2 million tonnes of grain and oilseed, up from 7.9 million tonnes the previous year.

The last time Thunder Bay grain volumes exceeded nine million tonnes in a single shipping season was in 1997.

The port authority attributed much of its success in 2020 to the port’s strategic position as “Western Canada’s gateway to eastern markets for grain.”

“Several factors contributed to the grain surge, including significant carryover of grain stocks from the large 2019 harvest and worldwide stockpiling of staple foods during the pandemic,” the port authority said in a Jan. 12 news release.

“Greater diversification of crops, particularly in Manitoba, is having an impact in Thunder Bay as well, as markets demand more variety.…

“Canola and soybean orders in Europe, for instance, have grown at a higher rate than those for traditional durum wheat.”

The Port of Thunder Bay, located on the north shore of Lake Superior, is Canada’s western-most marine shipping port on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system.

Outbound products that move through Thunder Bay have direct access to a 3,700 kilometre shipping route that connects Canadian shippers and traders with foreign customers via the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2020, the port welcomed more than 150 ocean vessels, or salties — the second highest number since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959.

Higher grain volumes in 2020 made up for reduction in shipping volumes for other commodities including coal, potash and liquid bulk goods.

Tim Heney, the port’s chief executive officer, said the port is positioned for further growth and diversification in 2021.

Last month, Thunder Bay handled its first inbound shipment of phosphate fertilizer.

The fertilizer was handled at Keefer Terminal and will be shipped by rail to prairie farms in time for seeding operations in the spring of 2021.

“This cargo represents an opportunity to increase inbound shipments in Thunder Bay, capitalizing on the large volume of outbound shipments and available capacity, improving the bottom line for shippers,” Heney said.

“We have invested heavily in infrastructure and marketed a two-way route that adds value for businesses shipping to and from the West. This cargo fits the model and affirms our strategy.”

Thunder Bay’s 2020 shipping season ended earlier this month.

The season’s last vessel, MV Saginaw, departed Jan. 12 with a grain cargo to be discharged at an elevator in Windsor, Ont.


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