Anew study currently underway into exporting Manitoba forage crops through the Port of Churchill may find sales opportunities somewhat mixed.
New overseas markets do exist for locally grown forages. And shipping through Hudson Bay is shorter and cheaper than via Vancouver or the St. Lawrence.
But, as always, Churchill has limits as an ocean port because of its remote northern location. Which means forage exports may have their limits, too, said Allen Tyrchniewicz, who is conducting the study for the Manitoba Forage Council.
That doesn’t mean the idea isn’t worth examining, Tyrchniewicz, a Winnipegbased consultant, added.
“Under certain conditions it is doable,” he said.
Tyrchniewicz’s study looks at potential markets for Manitoba forages and possible advantages for shipping them through Churchill.
One possible market is the Middle East which has a growing demand for livestock hay but limited ability to grow it because of water shortages.
An example is the United Arab Emirates, which has decreed forage crops will no longer be irrigated. As a result, forage imports to that country have grown dramatically, Tyrchniewicz said.
Forage producers in northwestern Manitoba and northeastern Saskatchewan could deliver export shipments to Churchill via rail out of The Pas, he said.
But using Churchill raises two barriers. The shipping season is only a few months long and overseas buyers want guaranteed continuous supplies. Also, double-compressed square hay bales must be shipped in containers, which Churchill currently does not handle.
Some possibilities exist for exporting hay pellets, which are shipped in bulk and do not require containers.
Otherwise, would-be forage shippers will need an alternate southern route if they want to export year round, said Tyrchniewicz.
“If you do get into that market, you’ll have to find another route as well as the Port of Churchill,” he said. “You would have to use both over the course of the year.”
Tyrchniewicz expects to have a draft report ready by mid-May. A final version could go to the Manitoba Forage Council in June.
Tyrchniewicz said his message to the council is that including Churchill in their future export plans is a good idea “recognizing that they need a Plan B.”