A new agreement between the ports of Churchill and Halifax creates another option for exporting grain from the Prairies.
Ever since Churchill started exporting grain in the 1930s, almost all of it sailed directly to the importing country. Now Churchill and Halifax will explore transshipments, with grain from Manitoba’s only seaport delivered to the terminal at Halifax, where it will be stored for future export.
“It opens up a world of possibilities,” Bill Drew, the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation’s (CGDC) executive director said March 13 in an interview.
“The great advantage of Halifax is the terminal there is somewhat underutilized and they have Halterm (container port) – they have container capacity right next door so there is some ability to combine modes here.”
That means Churchill could ship special crops, as well as grain.
In September 2007, an Arctic supply ship from Montreal took on 12,500 tonnes of wheat in Churchill and delivered it to Halifax where it was made into flour. Drew said the two ports want to work together to do even more of that.
“It helps with scheduling vessels because you can regularly schedule vessels for this run (between Churchill and Halifax) and you can use the capacity of Arctic supply vessels that are going back into that area anyway.”
Some of those supply ships carry empty containers that could be stuffed with pulse crops in Churchill, or they could move in bulk from Churchill and be stuffed in Halifax.
The Canadian Wheat Board supports the effort between the two ports, said spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry.
“The bottom line for us is, the more options and flexibility there is in transportation the better,” she said.
The CWB already transships wheat and barley via Thunder Bay to transfer terminals at Montreal, Quebec City and Bai-Comeau. It takes about 10 days to move grain that way. The sailing time between Churchill and Halifax is about four days.
The grain terminal at Halifax can store more than 130,000 tonnes and the port, which can handle post-panamax vessels, is ice free all year.
Churchill relies mainly on the export of CWB grains. Grain companies prefer to export through their own terminals to maximize returns and they don’t have any terminals in Churchill.
A relatively short four-month shipping season and a poor railway line to the port are also challenges.
However, exporting grain through Churchill not only saves farmers on rail costs, but also ocean freight to places like Europe.
Global warming promises to extend the port’s days of operation, but melting permafrost could compound the railway’s problems.
Last year the CWB exported 424,000 tonnes of grain through Churchill. That was down from 621,000 the year previous, which had been the port’s best shipping season since 1983.
A record 729,000 tonnes of grain were exported from Churchill in 1977. [email protected]