An early Prairie harvest sparked an increase in activity in October on the St. Lawrence Seaway as domestic and international carriers helped farmers export grain. “The early fall harvest of grain is helping to improve total cargo numbers for the System,” said Terence Bowles, CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. “We expect grain exports to keep the waterway busy during the coming weeks along with continued strength in construction and manufacturing-related cargoes.” Grain shipments (including Canadian and U.S.) from April 2 to October 31 totaled 7.6 million metric tons.  While this is down 10 per cent from a record 2014, grain tonnage is still well above the five-year average.

Port of Thunder Bay, the Great Lakes-Seaway’s largest grain port, reported that its year-to-date tonnage is 23 per cent higher than the five-year average. “The earlier harvest this year contributed to strong grain shipments in October,” said Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority. Wheat and canola, Thunder Bay’s staple grain commodities, account for 94 per cent of the grain shipped through the port, however it is also seeing an emerging lentil market which has made up two per cent of grain shipments this season.

Additionally, a strong residential construction market in Ontario and Quebec has helped push construction materials like gypsum up 80 per cent in October when compared to October 2014. Year-to-date (April 2 through October 31) numbers for gypsum are up 69 per cent compared to last year. Other construction cargos also saw strong increases such as stone, up 33 per cent, and cement with a 14 per cent increase when compared to last year. “We are going to have a very strong finish to the season for stone and construction aggregates,” said David Cree, CEO of the Windsor Port Authority. “Most of what has been moved is being used for construction of the 100-acre truck plaza for the new Gordie Howe International Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit.”

Domestic general cargo also saw an increase of 24.6 per cent, which is due mainly to increased shipments of aluminum ingots traveling from Sept-Iles, Quebec to ports in Oswego, New York and Toledo, Ohio for the automotive industry and other uses.

Across the board, however, total year-to-date (April 2 through October 31) cargo on the Seaway was 26.9 million metric tons, down 9.4 per cent. Although numbers are down, October’s surge of activity has helped to close the deficit and officials are optimistic for an improved end to the season.