Canada’s big railways hauled record amounts of wheat, canola and other grain in October, as farmers rebounded from last year’s drought to harvest a healthy crop.
Canadian National Railway Co. CNR-T says it moved 3.23 million tonnes of Western Canadian grain, topping its record set in October, 2020, by more than 50,000 tonnes. Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. CP-T carried more than 3.14 million tonnes of grain, surpassing its previous best month by 100,000 tonnes.
Doug MacDonald, CN’s chief marketing officer, said in a news release that the higher volumes are a result of co-operation throughout the supply chain, including farms, elevators, railways and terminals. Both railways have purchased new high-capacity cars that carry 44 per cent more grain.
“When the end-to-end supply chain runs well, we can move grain to ports and return railcars quickly to elevators to get more grain on the move,” Mr. MacDonald said.
In October, 2021, Montreal-based CN moved 2.36 million tonnes, according to figures the federal government has required railways to report monthly since a 2018 shipping slowdown, which hurt farmers, grain companies and Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.
For the week ending Oct. 22, CP carried 757,000 tonnes of Canadian grain and grain products, the highest weekly total in two years and the second-highest weekly tonnage ever for the Calgary-based railway.
Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents Cargill, Richardson International and other large shippers, described CN’s service as “in the range of normal.” He said the company is providing 90 per cent of rail cars ordered from it by grain companies, leaving 10 per cent of requests unfilled.
“They have moved quite a bit of grain,” Mr. Sobkowich said. “We’ll see what happens come winter and as we get into the fall.”
Tim Heney, chief executive officer of the Thunder Bay Port Authority on Lake Superior, said grain shipments this year are increasing in volume after last year’s drought-stricken crop.
“It has certainly picked up,” Mr. Heney said. “I would say it’s returning to normal. It’s not booming.”
Western Canadian grain is moved by rail to the Port of Thunder Bay, where it is loaded on lake- or ocean-going ships for the journey through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. It is then transferred to terminals or sent to overseas markets. The port handles about 400 vessels a year, the majority of which carry grain.
Global wheat prices soared this year after Russia invaded Ukraine and threatened to cut off market access to the major crop producer. Turkey and the United Nations have conducted vessel inspections to allow the crops to move on the Black Sea and alleviate concerns about a global food crisis. Russia resumed its participation in the program on Wednesday, freeing up exports from Ukraine and calming markets.
Mr. Heney said potash, used for fertilizer, has also been in high demand amid disruptions caused by the attack on Ukraine, traditionally a large fertilizer maker.
CN said last week its profit fell by 13 per cent to $1.5-billion in the three months ending on Sept. 30, compared with the same period last year. Adjusted for a payment in the year-earlier period and accounting changes, diluted earnings per share rose by 40 per cent.
Grain and fertilizers are CN’s third-biggest business cargo by revenue, behind containerized goods, and petroleum and chemicals. For CP, grain is the second-biggest revenue generator after container shipping.