OTTAWA -- Grain shipments through the Port of Churchill dropped this year as the Canadian Wheat Board adjusted to a new monopoly-free reality, but Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said there is still reason for optimism.
According to Ritz's office, 434,434 tonnes of grain were shipped out of Churchill this year, about 15 per cent less than last year and the lowest amount since 2008.
However, the shipments were not far off the 10-year historical average of 450,000 tonnes, and Ritz said there is reason for optimism that the port is diversifying.
A year ago on Sunday, royal assent was given to the bill that ended the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly on Prairie wheat and barley sales. The change, long promised by the Conservative party, was concerning for Churchill, which counted on the CWB for more than 90 per cent of its business.
In April, Ritz announced a $25-million, five-year transition program offering cash incentives to companies that used Churchill to ship grain. Richardson International and Nearco Transportation Consulting shared the $5 million for 2012 on a first-come, first-served basis for grain shipments.
In previous years, almost all shipments through Churchill were wheat and durum but in 2012, canola and barley were added.
"With the help of this transition funding, Churchill is well-positioned to continue to diversify and maintain the historical average in the future," Ritz said in a release.
Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin said the $25-million transition payments won't last more than five years, and there is no guarantee the port will still get business without the $9-per-tonne subsidy. Add to that the $349-million package announced in June to help the wheat board transition to an open market, and Martin said taxpayers are getting fleeced.
He also questioned the impact of Ritz's "so-called marketing freedom," saying droughts in the United States and Australia skewed commodity prices this year.
In July, Churchill Gateway Development Corporation executive director Jeff McEachern said more than 500,000 tonnes of grain were expected to be shipped through Churchill. He said the corporation is also looking at adding new commodities such as potash and crude oil to the mix.
Shipments through Churchill
2012: 432,434 tonnes
2011: 507,000 tonnes
2010: 600,000 tonnes
2009: 529,000 tonnes
2008: 425,000 tonnes
2007: 621,000 tonnes