Thunder Bay expects more activity beyond sluggish start


CNS Canada — Since the Port of Thunder Bay’s season opening, its grain handle has been slower compared with previous years, but the port’s CEO says this year is a reversion to normal.

The northern Lake Superior port started shipping on March 26, and as of May 31 has moved 1.5 million tonnes of cargo, compared with 1.8 million in the same time frame a year prior.

“We’ve had two very strong years back to back, so we’re down from those years,” said Thunder Bay Port Authority CEO Tim Heney.

The amount of grain moved by the port in any given year can be limited by competition between eastern/western supply chains, availability of ships and the amount of exports to the U.S.

In April 2016 the port moved 643,003 tonnes of grain, compared with 688,223 in the same month a year prior.

In May the port moved 729,000 tonnes of grain, which lags behind 2015, when the port moved 1.1 million tonnes.

The amount of grain moved this year is in line with the five-year average, but it’s hard to tell what coming months will hold, Heney said.

Months leading into harvest are often slower, he added, and movement picks up when new crop becomes available.

“All indications are it’ll be large; the last three harvests were the biggest three in Canada,” Heney said.

All it takes is one good shipment to bring the port back up to par with stronger years, as the port has the largest grain storage capacity in North America.

“You can make up so much tonnage, if there’s a big push you can bounce from 500,000 to 1.3 million in one month,” Heney said.

Structural changes in the Canadian grain industry have allowed the port to become more successful in recent years, he said, naming changes to the single-desk model of wheat marketing as one example.

In 2012 the Canadian Wheat Board ended its monopsony and became CWB, and later G3 Canada.

“That’s been positive for us, up until this point,” he said.

Looking forward, Heney would like the port to move a million tonnes of grain per month this year.

“We consider that a pretty good number, because then you end up the year around nine million tonnes,” he said.

The port is expected to operate until Jan. 15.

Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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