By Keith Norbury
The new grain terminal at the Port of Oshawa is good news for farmers in the nearby Durham Region, a major agricultural area of Ontario. Zac Cohoon, who operates the 1,200-acre Twin Erin Farms Inc. near Port Perry and Lac Scugog, said in an interview that the new terminal is only about 25 kilometres from most of the region’s farm. That’s about 50 kilometres nearer than the grain terminal at Hamilton and about 300 kilometres closer than a grain terminal at Johnstown, Ont., on the St. Lawrence River. “It just is good for transportation costs,” Mr. Cohoon said of the new Oshawa grain terminal. “All the grain that’s produced in the region of Durham has to go by truck to be processed, usually two to three hours away.”
The agri-business division of Québec City-based Sollio Cooperative Group, Sollio Agriculture, opened the new terminal in partnership with QSL (previously Québec Stevedoring Limited). The terminal handled nearly 100,000 tonnes of grain onto six vessels in 2020, during its first commercial season, which ran from June to December. “We’ve been working very hard to get to end users and more industry related uses close to where we are because we’re kind of in the land in between,” said Mr. Cohoon, who also chairs the Durham Agriculture Advisory Committee.
Happy with first year
Paul Hazzard, General Manager of Sollio Agriculture’s Ontario grain business, said Sollio has plans to expand the facility. “We were really happy with the first year,” Mr. Hazzard said. QSL put in the capital dollars and “we have a long term lease to put product through it,” Mr. Hazzard said. “It’s an exclusive arrangement.”
QSL spokesperson Claudine Couture-Trudel said that the terminal has a capacity of 250,000 to 300,000 tonnes, which QSL expects to reach within five years. The facility cost $7 million — $6 million for a 10,000-tonne capacity silo and the remainder for logistical improvements such as conveyor systems. “We are very proud of the success of the grain terminal and are looking forward to additional opportunities to offer tailor-made success to our partner and to the local farming industry,” Ms. Couture-Trudel said.
The terminal handles primarily wheat, corn, and soybeans from about 200 farmers in the Durham Region, a 2,500 square kilometre municipality that encompasses Oshawa and extending to Lake Simcoe and Lake Scugog. “Actually, we produce relatively equal acres of the crops, but there’s more tonnage of corn,” Mr. Cohoon said. “But this year, I think they shipped through that point more tonnage of wheat and soybeans than they did of corn.”
The terminal is a Canadian Grain Commission-approved export facility that has modern storage, loading and unloading equipment. That includes a “double loading system that avoids vessels having to change location” and “fully covered electrical conveyor system,” according to QSL. The terminal is also Green Marine certified. Its East wharf is 274.3 metres long with a depth of 8.2 metres, while the West wharf is 201.7 metres long with a depth of 7.6 metres. Mr. Hazzard said the terminal has helped Sollio increase its revenues by about 10 per cent.
“Much of this was achieved despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact on the economy,” he said in the Dec. 16 Sollio news posting. “We are proud to contribute to the export of Ontario’s crops through our new infrastructure, which supplies food processors around the world. With the learnings gleaned from the 2020 shipping year, we expect results to be even better next year. Our customers and the carriers delivering the grain to the Port gave us valuable feedback for both short-term and longer-term improvements, many of which have been implemented.”
Just one bin
Mr. Hazzard explained in an interview that the bin is filled with one crop at a time, which is then loaded onto a vessel, typically 12,000 to 15,000 tonnes per shipload. “And then we just coordinate with customers and farmers in the area to be received during loading of the vessel, loading the top,” Mr. Hazzard said. “That part of it, transitioning from one commodity to the other, actually went quite well.” When the bin needs to be emptied, fewer trucks are brought in. “So when we’re done, we are very near empty,” Mr. Hazzard said. The grain arrives through a combination of area farmers and other commercial customers, some with their own trucks. “A lot of it is third-party carriers,” he explained.
Sollio owns the grain and contracts with QSL to run the facility. “That said, we have we have people on site whenever a vessel is loaded,” Mr. Hazzard said.
Including graders, observers and operational crew, the terminal currently runs with about ten people. “The long term, we need to see that down,” Mr. Hazzard said. “We need to make sure our operational costs are best in practice.”
Of the six ships that loaded grain during the 2020 season, five were lakers, Mr. Cohoon said. The other was an-ocean-going “salty” vessel. According to QSL, the terminal can handle 12 to 30 ships annually, depending on the vessels. A laker, optimized for Seaway locks, can carry up to 25,000 tonnes, while a salty has a capacity of 18,000 to 20,000 tonnes.
Mr. Hazzard said five of the ships took the grain to a combination of Sollio’s own facility in Québec City and to other trading companies along the St. Lawrence River. “One cargo did go over to Europe,” he said.
A farmer-owned company, Québec City-based Sollio Agriculture, a division of Sollio Cooperative Group, handles more than 4 million tonnes of grain annually and posted $2.57 billion in sales in 2019, according to its website. The company, which employs more than 1,100 people, has a network of inland grain elevators and commercial agreements for three export ports in Ontario: Oshawa, Sarnia, and Prescott. The company also uses other export facilities, such as Johnstown, which is a federally owned facility, as well as Quebec City, and Halifax. Sollio’s Ontario office is in London. “We also put products through Thunder Bay too. That would be western grains,” said Mr. Hazzard, whose spoke from his home in Sarnia, Ont. Compared with major grain players like Richardson, Viterra, and Cargill, Sollio is “somewhat of a smaller entity but growing rapidly,” Mr. Hazzard said.
The new Oshawa grain terminal will even provide indirect benefits for Prairie grain producers, said Harvey Brooks, General Manager of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission. “Any handling transportation capacity advancements are good in that they may take different routes, (and) they might release more constrained capacity for other products,” Mr. Brooks said. “So we hope that people do well with those investments.”