Grain ship awaits docking at the port of Churchill.

Grain vessel awaits docking at the Port of Churchill. Photo Steve Selden

The Churchill shipping season is off to a late start this fall, nearly a month behind its regular schedule for shipping grain and wheat products from the port to various countries worldwide.

Late harvest, shallow inventory as well as shipping industry variables have created a created a time sensitive shipping schedule to attain the slightly lower average tonnage threshold according to Merv Tweed, OmniTRAX Canada president. OmniTRAX is the owner/operator of the Port of Churchill and they hope to reach 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes of grain by November and the end of the shipping season.

With this goal about 12 and 15 ships will make Churchill a port of call this year. Between now and the first week of November, the port will have to hustle to meet the quota projected. Sea ice will begin to clog passages at that time and ships will be unable to safely pass through Hudson Bay to reach Churchill.

Port of Churchill in Churchill, Manitoba.

Port of Churchill frozen and shut down for the season. Photo Steve Selden

“We’re seeing the volumes increase. The biggest challenge the grain sellers have is just getting the ship allocation,”stated Tweed. “No one seems to know why (the ships are late in arriving), other than that it was a late grain season.”

Lentils have made a return to the shipping docket as two ships are now scheduled for this season after a few years absence from the product ledger.

“We are hoping it will become a bigger opportunity as the market for lentils grows,” Tweed said. “It may become the specialty crop that we grow our business on just based on the amount of production coming out of northern Saskatchewan.”

Northern Saskatchewan is the prime supplier to the port of Wheat and grain products across the board with  70 per cent production from that region.

A few years ago, OmniTRAX announced plans to get into the crude oil shipping business, however that agenda has not materialized amid public outcry. Tweed indicated that oil transport is no longer being pursued. The surprise announcement that a $22 million Churchill Marine Observatory to study the detection, impact and mitigation of oil spills in the Arctic raises questions as to future possibilities of such commerce.

For now only grain products will leave the port and this season will be a condensed and frantic one to say the least!

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