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  December 15th, 2016 | Written by

North American Grain Shipments Flowing

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  • Project cargo shipments on the St. Lawrence Seaway are up 42 percent this year.
  • U.S. grain shipments on the St. Lawrence Seaway are up 7.7 percent over last year.
  • Iron ore shipments on the St. Lawrence Seaway have improved in recent months.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is expecting a strong finish to the shipping season as freighters deliver raw materials and exports for North America’s industrial and agricultural sectors before the waterway closes December 31.

According to the latest figures from the St. Lawrence Seaway, total year-to-date cargo shipments for this year (March 21 through November 30) have reached 30.3 million metric tons.

“The St. Lawrence Seaway has been a significant export gateway for American grain and iron ore pellets this season and that’s expected to continue in these final weeks of December,” said Bruce R. Burrows, the new president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. “High-value project cargo such as wind turbines and machinery have also been a star cargo category this season with shipments up 42 percent. Manufacturers increasingly recognize that the Great Lakes-Seaway system is a safe, cost-effective way to ship these very large components directly into the heart of North America.”

U.S. grain shipments reached nearly 2.3 million metric tons through November, about 7.7 percent above last year’s strong performance. Iron ore shipments, although down 10 percent over 2015 volumes, have improved in recent months due to the resurgence of exports via the seaway to Japan and China following improved global pricing.

The Port of Duluth-Superior is among those reporting a recent uptick in shipping. “We have seen a 15-percent increase in vessel visits by Canadian lakers through November of this year, reflective of increased shipments of iron ore and grain through the seaway,” said Vanta Coda, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “Economic recovery in Minnesota’s mining industry still has a way to go, but seeing pellets pick up the pace is encouraging. And the stream of grain shipments is still running nearly 25 percent above the port’s five-year average.”

November 2016 shipments through the Port of Toledo outpaced last November and brought total tonnage increasingly closer to 2015 totals. Despite a slow start and much lower iron ore throughput, grain, coal, petroleum products, and general cargo shipments are outpacing last year and the port is finishing the season strong.

“We have now surpassed the seven-million ton mark and all the terminals have been very busy over the last several weeks, firing on all cylinders,” said Joe Cappel, VP of Business Development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “We are having a record year for aluminum shipments and the fall grain harvest was also very good. This is a great way to end the season and we hope to continue the momentum into next year.”

For the Port of Green Bay, petroleum products lead the way following the shutdown of the main pipeline that supplies petroleum products to Northeast Wisconsin. “This year’s shipping season, which typically ends between Christmas and New Year’s, will extend through January and possibly into February, with the U.S. Coast Guard breaking ice to allow for continued shipments of petroleum products within the Great Lakes,” said Dean Haen, director of the Port of Green Bay. “Those shipments, coupled with expected import of additional salt and limestone this month, will help the overall 2016 shipping totals.”