Churchill port wraps up its shipping season

Grain shipments through Churchill have fallen this year, but officials say they’re encouraged because the port attracted new customers and shipped a greater variety of products.

“It was a successful year,” but “probably not as successful as we would have liked it to be,” said Jeff McEachern, executive director of the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation.

The last ship of the season was loaded last week, bringing the year’s handling total to about 430,000 tonnes of grains and oilseeds — down from 515,000 tonnes last year.

Until this year, the Canadian Wheat Board accounted for most, if not all, of Churchill’s grain shipments and the loss of the single desk has some questioning the future of the port.

But while the change resulted in a later-than-normal start to the shipping season, the greater diversity of products moving through the port was a favourable sign, said McEachern. In 2011 only CWB wheat and durum went through the port, but this year it also handled barley, canola, and canola pellets. Two new customers used the port.

All shippers are eligible for subsidies under a $25-million, five-year program created by Ottawa to encourage use of the country’s only deepwater Arctic port. The program was oversubscribed in its first year, said McEachern.

A winter storage program is already in place, and it’s expected the port will surpass the 500,000-tonne mark next year, he added.

“This year was about evaluating the facility and its capabilities,” said McEachern.

An engineering study of the wharf was conducted and officials hope to diversify the port’s business in coming years.

“Right now it’s a grain-handling facility, and we’d like the capability to deal with more diverse products,” said McEachern.

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Phil Franz-Warkentin - MarketsFarm

Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for MarketsFarm specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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