Strong movements of North American grain and renewed iron ore export activity in September have spearheaded an upswing in shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

From the waterway’s opening on March 21 to the end of September, shipments of Canadian and U.S. grain hit 5.8 million metric tonnes, in line with the healthy volumes experienced in 2015. Overall, some 21.2 million metric tonnes of cargo transited the Seaway’s locks, down 5.3 per cent from 2015 shipping volumes during the same period of time.

“September’s burst of activity is helping to bring overall cargo numbers close to last year’s performance,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. “I am pleased to note that Canadian shipowners are now operating virtually every vessel in their fleet on the Great Lakes-Seaway System in order to meet increased demand. In addition, ocean-going vessels in our system are tracking at the same level as last year, which is above the five-year average.”

Port of Thunder Bay reported its best September in 20 years with grain shipments 33 percent above average, tallying just over 1 million metric tonnes. “We’re seeing the Prairie harvest move much more quickly from field to port than in years past.  Rail car unloadings at the port are increasing every week,” said Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

G3 Canada Limited owns a terminal in Thunder Bay that handles approximately 1.5 million metric tonnes of grain annually and is currently building a new terminal in Hamilton, Ontario. “We have another large crop on the Prairies and we’re seeing shipments pick up significantly through Thunder Bay,” said Ward Weisensel, Senior Vice-President Trading, Procurement and Risk, G3 Canada. “The Seaway is going to be busy through to the end of December as grain handlers use this important waterway to export the harvest to European, Middle East and African markets.  Construction on our Hamilton facility also remains on schedule and we’re excited to be able to provide another competitive alternative to Ontario farmers when it opens this spring.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton Port Authority is reporting a good year for Ontario grain shipments. Ian Hamilton, Vice President of Business Development and Real Estate for Hamilton Port Authority, said: “The season started with almost 300,000 metric tonnes of winter-stored corn shipped this spring. The dry Ontario summer has impacted the region’s soybean yields, but we remain cautiously optimistic overall, with our grain-export tonnage to date up 64 per cent over 2015.”

In addition to strong grain activity, a rise in global iron ore prices over recent months has led to a resumption of iron ore exports via the Seaway. “We have the capacity to respond quickly to changes in demand, and the burst of shipping activity in September underscores the vital role that the Seaway fulfills in the logistics chain,” said Terence Bowles. “Cargo owners and shippers can consistently depend upon the Seaway to move their goods to market without delay, to capture opportunities both within North America and across the globe”.

Shipments of liquid bulk products, including petroleum, asphalt and other products, totalled 2.5 million tonnes, up 25 percent from 2015 levels. Other commodities, however, did not fare as well, with dry bulk, coal and iron ore down by 11 to 15 per cent on a year-to-date comparison basis.