WINNIPEG-BASED grain-handling company Richardson International has completed its first shipment of wheat from the Port of Churchill and port operators are confident traffic will at least hit average levels in the first year of the post-Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) monopoly era.
Although details of shipments and destinations are now closely-guarded commercial intelligence, Richardson International did disclose the ship MV New Legend Pearl set out en route to Colombia on Saturday with 27,500 metric tonnes of No. 2 Canadian Western Red Spring wheat originating from Richardson Pioneer elevators in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In the past, the CWB was responsible for the vast majority of the grain shipments through Churchill.
Since the enactment of the federal government's Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act that opened up the market for western Canadian wheat and barley, the fate of the Port of Churchill has been something many are paying attention to.
To encourage use of the port, the federal government has provided a $9-per-tonne incentive for shipments of Prairie grain through Churchill for the next five years. Brad Chase, the president of OmniTRAX Canada, the owner and operator of the port, said the program is just about fully subscribed. The incentives are capped at 500,000 tonnes per year.
"We will have the full incentive and we expect to have volumes beyond that," Chase said. "We're looking to have a good year."
Over the past five years the Churchill port has averaged shipments of about 550,000 tonnes.
Although Richardson has not used the Port of Churchill very often over the last several years, it has a connection to the port dating back to 1929, when it sent a shipment of Manitoba wheat to Liverpool, England.
Jean-Marc Ruest, vice-president corporate affairs at Richardson, said despite the fact the company has been absent from the port for many years, he said the experience so far this year has been positive.
"The starting point always has to be that it makes commercial sense," Ruest said. "This was an opportunity to see if it works logistically and operationally and the results were good. We're very pleased with how this loading transpired and we will be using it more this year."
Richardson's ship was the fourth grain shipment to leave the port since its shipping season began July 15.
Chase said OmniTRAX is investing in the infrastructure there, including bolstering its grain-handling facilities so next year it will be able to clean canola at the port.
Chase said in addition to Richardson, there are other grain-handling companies using the port, an indication the incentive program has done its job in encouraging the grain companies to ship through the northern saltwater port.
"The fact that we are a Manitoba company using a Manitoba port I think is good thing," said Ruest. "There was a lot of concern about how grain companies like us would react with the loss of the wheat board. We've shown when it makes commercial sense, Churchill can maintain its place in the industry.