St. Lawrence Seaway cargo volumes slower in September due to late harvests

October 16, 2019 – St. Lawrence Seaway cargo shipments in September were buoyed by road salt, iron ore exports and general cargo such as aluminum and wind energy components. 

However, overall Seaway volumes were slower due in part to the late Prairie harvest. 

From March 22 to September 30, Seaway cargo shipments totaled 24.8 million tonnes, down 6 per cent from 2018. 

The figures reflect a combination of factors including the decrease in U.S. grain exports from earlier in the spring and current delays in the Canadian harvest due to the wet field conditions. 

Slow harvest progress in Western Canada is delaying the movement of grain to prairie elevators and export terminals on the West Coast and at Thunder Bay. With harvests estimated to be 20 to 30 per cent behind where they would be normally, it is expected there will be more exports late this fall and into December. 

Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, said: “Seaway activity remains at elevated levels in terms of both domestic and ocean ships currently in the system. As the final quarter of the year is characterized by a burst of shipping activity, we are looking forward to a steady level of demand throughout October, November, and December as industrial and agricultural shippers race to meet their clients’ demands. Despite some inclement weather in Western Canada, volumes should increase as the grain harvest comes to market.” 

Aluminum ingot shipments from Canada to the United States remain up from 2018, following the lifting of American tariffs last year and dry bulk continues to be a strong category due to salt shipments. 

Despite the later Prairie harvest, September was a strong month at the Port of Thunder Bay where year-to-date shipments reached 5.9 million metric tonnes, 9 per cent ahead of last year. 

“Grain shipments have trended upward this season as a result of increased canola deliveries from Western Canada being shipped to Europe,” said Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority. He added total canola volumes to date are two-thirds higher than 2018. There has been more stock available throughout the year due to China not buying canola from Canada and more demand after the European canola crop was much smaller this year. 

The cargo tally in Thunder Bay for September reached 1.1 million metric tonnes, about 20 per cent higher than last year. An increase in coal shipments has helped to offset a return to normal volumes of potash this season. Meanwhile, a spike in the other dry bulk figure is largely due to deliveries of salt for winter maintenance of regional roadways. 

For HOPA Ports (Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority), optimism stems from new agri-food related cargoes. At the Port of Oshawa, a new, $6 million grain export terminal under construction by Sollio Agriculture and QSL is expected to deliver its first overseas exports of Ontario-grown grain this fall. “This new terminal will be an enormous service improvement for grain farmers east of Toronto. It is also a major step in diversifying the cargo mix through the Port of Oshawa,” said Ian Hamilton, President & CEO of HOPA Ports. At the Port of Hamilton, imports of raw sugar have exceeded 30,000 MT already this season, supplying the newly-expanded SucroCan sugar refinery located at the port. This facility is already highly integrated into Hamilton’s $1 billion regional food processing supply chain, and an example of the value-added businesses that the port has been attracting in recent years. 

The Port of Johnstown had a strong September with vessels arriving carrying road salt, wind energy components and steel beams. Total cargo is up by 21 per cent this season over 2018 with salt deliveries and wind energy components making up the increase. A total of 523, 577 tonnes of cargo was handled by vessel vs 432,268 tonnes in 2018. 

Robert Dalley, General Manager, Port of Johnstown said: “Overall, we’ve have a good third quarter, however, grain movement by vessel remains flat and this is expected to continue into the 2019 harvest as soybeans sales continue to be affected by current global trade practices.” 

Burlington-based ship operator McKeil Marine reported roughly 80,800 tonnes of cement transported in September, as well as nearly 53,000 tonnes of aggregates and approximately 44,500 tonnes of aluminum. CSL Group, a shipping company based out of Montreal, reports 1,669,745 tonnes of cargo transported in September. 


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About the Chamber of Marine Commerce 

The Chamber of Marine Commerce is a bi-national association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholders including major Canadian and American shippers, ports, terminals and marine service providers, as well as domestic and international ship owners. The Chamber advocates for safe, sustainable, harmonized and competitive policy and regulation that recognizes the marine transportation system’s significant advantages in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Coastal and Arctic regions. 

Media Contact: 

Julia Fields 

Chamber of Marine Commerce 

(613) 294-8515