As the debate heats up regarding the federal government’s plan to introduce legislation this Fall to dissolve the Canadian Wheat board (CWB), OmiTRAX, current owner of the Port of Churchill is looking at ways to diversify itself in the Northern Arctic region.

Port of Churchill,MB

Churchill's Port growth could become frozen.

Canada’s conservative ruling party vows to end the monopoly of the CWB as early as August 1, 2012 thereby allowing prarie wheat farmers to sell their products on the open market. What seems to be a no-brainer for people looking at the issue from the outside, there seems to be a fair amount of resistance from those on the inside…particularly many Canadian wheat farmers that want to focus on farming instead of marketing. The CWB has been marketing the distribution of the products primarily through the Port of Churchill since the 1940’s.  The stability in pricing in low markets and reliability of  steady income has spawned resistance to change from the very farmers for whom the new legislation is aimed at liberating. It’s a sideways issue in many ways that the government is remaining stubbornly bent upon solving their way despite any resistance of a possible majority.

Earlier this month, the first of seven forums involving prarie farmers was opened to an overflowing crowd in Regina. Standing room only in a facility that held 400 seats indicated just how pressing this issue is. This plebiscite of sorts was initiated by the CWB in an effort to alert the government to what they feel is a majority of satisfaction with how the current system works.

However Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz states that despite the results of the forums, legislation will still be initiated this Fall.

“The CWB needs to realize that regardless of how many pro-board farmers attend their meetings or participate in their expensive survey, no one farmer should trump the rights of another farmer,” Ritz said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“In contrast, our government wants to provide every farmer with marketing choice, whether that’s selling individually or in a marketing pool.”

With all the turmoil brewing across the plains and in the chambers of government, OmniTRAX is stepping up it’s plans to diversify its’ usage of the only inland deep-water Arctic seaport in Canada. The company recently appointed  Canadian , Brad Chase, to oversee OmniTRAX’s Canadian operations at this current crossroads.

Last year, 656,298 tonnes were shipped through the Churchill port. That was the second-highest tonnage since Denver-based OmniTRAX bought the port and rail line in 1997. It was also the first time in three years that non-CWB shipments moved through the port. With the looming elimination of the CWB, that growth through wheat and barley sales could dissapate in the coming years. OmniTRAX is preparing for that possiblity by opening up new transportation lanes to Northern Manitoba and  Nunuvut communities to the North. Some of those potential viable markets include transporting fertilizer to and from Russia, the potential developments of huge, new iron ore mines on Baffin Island and the possible opening of the North West Passage to shipping transport. OmniTRAX also has been promoting the possibility of utilizing the Port of Churchill to import  mega-loads of  industrial equipment made in South Korea and needed in the Alberta oilsands.

With all these new possible markets OmniTRAX seems poised to keep the Port of Churchill viable through all the impending changes to come.

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