Hudson Bay carries near-record wheat handle: CWB

Manitoba’s inland port at Churchill on Hudson Bay handled its second-highest volume of wheat in over 30 years during the port’s 2010 shipping season, the Canadian Wheat Board reports.

The CWB on Wednesday reported a total of 600,000 tonnes of milling wheat and durum having moved through the port. That’s up from 529,000 tonnes in 2009, but down from both the recent and all-time records of 621,000 tonnes in 2007 and 710,000 in 1977, respectively.

This year’s grain handle through Churchill also included 43,000 tonnes of canola and 12,000 tonnes of peas, the CWB noted in a release.

In total, 20 ocean vessels loaded wheat or durum at the Hudson Bay deep-water port this season, bound for Europe, Africa and the Americas, the board said.

Churchill’s last ship of 2010, the Nikator, left the port Tuesday with 26,000 tonnes of spring wheat en route to West Africa. The shipping season launched July 29 with the arrival of the Federal Danube to load durum bound for Europe.

The port’s catchment area for grain generally 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.

The CWB also offers a Churchill Storage Program that pays farmers in those regions to store grain on-farm for northbound delivery at a later date.

The port’s season begins well before new crop is harvested each summer, thus the facility relies largely on grain stored from the prior crop year.

The port’s “exceptional” 2010 season is good news for farmers, CWB CEO Ian White said Wednesday.

Although limited in its shipping window due to ice on Hudson Bay, Churchill is considered the most efficient export route for grain from the grain-growing regions of northern and eastern Saskatchewan and northwestern Manitoba.

Farmers in the port’s catchment area are able to save in terms of rail freight costs and avoiding St. Lawrence Seaway charges.

Grain, passengers and other rail traffic reach Churchill over about 1,100 km of track laid on heaving northern Manitoba terrain.

The port in recent years has also handled some new inbound traffic as a Prairie growers’ bulk buying group used Churchill to bring in Russian-made fertilizer. Those shipments were the first under an “Arctic Bridge” concept proposed to link Russian and Canadian Prairie markets through Churchill.

The former Canadian National (CN) rail line from The Pas to Churchill, now dubbed the Hudson Bay Railway, has been owned since 1997 by Denver-based OmniTrax, which also runs Churchill’s port facilities.

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