Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Grain shortage, cold snap cause delays at West Coast ports

'...the vessels continue to arrive'

prince rupert grain terminal
File photo of the Prince Rupert Grain Terminal. (Dan_prat/iStock/Getty Images)

MarketsFarm — Grain movement in Western Canada remains faced with significant difficulties, according to Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum Corp., which monitors rail traffic and vessel movements in Canada.

February’s cold snap resulted in grain movement across the region falling below its three-year average.

The most pressing issue has been a shortage of grain to load onto vessels at both Vancouver and Prince Rupert in British Columbia.

“The vessel lineups at both ports have been unusually high throughout this crop year. This is in part because of the heavy demand and partially because the demand has not slowed since last spring,” Hemmes said.

“Also, the railways — while they performed exceptionally well from October through to the end of January, the start was slow, and the system has had a difficult time recovering. These past two weeks have had an especially large impact on vessels as the grain was not available at port, but the vessels continue to arrive.”

The problem will be compounded because of more vessels due to arrive. As of Monday there were 35 vessels at Vancouver and seven at Prince Rupert waiting to be loaded, with a dozen more headed to Vancouver and five on their way to Prince Rupert, he said.

The shortage situation at both West Coast ports was intensified as Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways were required to slow their respective movements because of frigid weather that descended on the Prairies.

The number of cars allotted was cut by 31 per cent by CN and 60 per cent by CP, Hemmes said.

“In addition, we saw a decrease in the amount of grain that was delivered by producers in the country, 458,000 tonnes against an average of over 1.2 million tonnes weekly throughout most of this crop year.”

Other than the February cold snap, there haven’t any major delays to rail traffic this winter.

“There have been some derailments through the winter period but none that saw line outages any longer than 24 hours and they have recovered fairly quickly,” Hemmes said.

While Prince Rupert was forecast to get precipitation this week, any delays due to rain or snow haven’t been significant, he added.

— Glen Hallick reports for MarketsFarm from Winnipeg.

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