Churchill’s handle tops “typical” numbers: CWB

Tonnage of Prairie wheat shipped out through the Hudson Bay port of Churchill, Man. in its 2008 season beats “typical annual levels” for the port but is down from its “extraordinary” 2007 season.

The Canadian Wheat Board on Thursday reported moving 424,000 tonnes of wheat to export markets via Churchill during its 2008 season from Aug. 9 to Oct. 20. That’s down from the 621,000 tonnes shipped out in 2007, the highest at the port in 30 years.

For that banner 2007 season, however, wheat supplies were drawn down to low levels in order to take full advantage of market price rallies. “Subsequent low stock levels on the Prairies left no opportunity for another consecutive year of record volumes at Churchill,” the CWB said.

In all, 15 ocean vessels loaded grain in Churchill, bound for customers in Africa, Turkey and Europe, the CWB said, noting two shiploads of grain bound for the UK on vessels that unloaded Russian fertilizer at Churchill for the input buying group Farmers of North America (FNA).

FNA’s inbound traffic made for “an important and unusual two-way opportunity for a port where most grain ships arrive empty,” the CWB said.

The last ship to leave Churchill on Oct. 20 was the Swift Cro, carrying 24,000 tonnes of CWRS wheat to Sudan. The port is almost entirely reliant on CWB grain for its viability, the board said, noting it was again responsible for all grain handled at Churchill this year.

Most grain shipped through Churchill is drawn through the Churchill catchment area, which runs from Prince Albert in northern Saskatchewan east through Humboldt and Canora and into northwestern agricultural Manitoba, north from Swan River and Bowsman up to The Pas.

Exporting Prairie wheat through Churchill saves farmers money on transportation in terms of rail freight costs and avoiding St. Lawrence Seaway charges, the CWB said. “Churchill grain exports also help ensure the ongoing success of the port, a major employer and economic driver for the northern community.”

Compared to other ports, however, Churchill is more limited by its short ice-free season, from late July to early November. Grain, passengers and other rail traffic reach Churchill over about 1,100 km of track laid on heaving northern terrain.

Grain handle through Churchill, 2004 to 2008.

CWB shipments CWB share of all
(tonnes) Churchill grain
traffic (per cent)
2008 424,388 100
2007 620,709 100
2006 384,162 79
2005 353,361 76
2004 360,510 90

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