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  November 15th, 2016 | Written by

Great Lakes Shipping: Grain and Iron Ore Lead the Way

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  • Total 2016 Seaway shipments were down five percent over 2015, but an improvement over earlier in the season.
  • U.S. grain shipments on the Seaway were slightly ahead of 2015’s performance.
  • U.S. grain traffic through the Seaway has grown 30 percent since 2014.

North American grain and iron ore exports have kept Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway shipping on course in October, according to the latest statistics.

Total Seaway year-to-date shipments for 2016 (March 21 through October 31) have reached nearly 25.8 million metric tons, down five percent over 2015, but an improvement over earlier in the season.

U.S. grain totaled 1.8 million metric tons for that period, just slightly ahead of the 2015 season’s robust performance.

“U.S. grain traffic continues to increase through the Seaway having grown 30 percent since 2014,” said Raymond Johnston, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. “A surge of U.S. iron ore pellet exports to Japan and China is also keeping the St. Lawrence Seaway bustling in the critical months before the shipping season winds down.”

For the Port of Duluth-Superior, grain shipments are up. “Grain tonnage is on track to outpace 2015 and our five-year average,” said Vanta Coda, Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director. “Many of those grain cargoes have been loaded onto Canadian vessels heading for Canadian ports. This is great news for this port, the regional economy and for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system as a whole. Project cargo makes its way through this binational waterway, and backhauls of grain along those same trade lanes make freight rates even more competitive.”

The Port of Milwaukee is also seeing a strong year for agricultural exports with cargo volumes up more than 300 percent over last year. “One of the keys to this year’s success for agricultural product exports is the importing of steel,” said Port of Milwaukee spokesperson Jeff Fleming. “The ships bringing in steel are looking for return cargos. It’s more economical if there are products like grain to ship out.” Fleming adds that the Wisconsin-grown products are going to a variety of destinations, including Northern Europe and Africa.

Johnston added that more than one-million metric tons of iron ore pellets are being exported this year from Minnesota and Michigan mines via docks in Duluth-Superior, Escanaba and Marquette, Michigan, and Conneaut, Ohio. “The iron ore is being loaded by Canadian ships and carried to the Port of Quebec where its loaded on ocean carriers for onward transport to Asia for steel production,” he said. “We’re also seeing American lakers carrying iron ore from Duluth-Superior to Conneaut, then picked up by Canadian domestic ships for transport via the Seaway. It’s a great example of how the bi-national shipping system can act quickly to find innovative logistics solutions for customers like the mining sector.”