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Hamilton Economic Development

Grain keeps port afloat

Grains and trains are setting the pace for cargo volume through the Port of Hamilton last year.

The Hamilton Port Authority said in a news release Monday while overall volume through the port was essentially flat last year, grain and the volume of cargo moved in and out of the port by train continue to grow as steel volume slumps.

“Last year was fairly flat for us in terms of volume,” said Ian Hamilton, the authority’s vice-president for marketing. “We’ve lost 3 to 4 million tonnes of U.S. Steel cargo over the last five years but we’re delighted we’ve been able to replace almost half of that.”

Hamilton said grain volume through the port rose 13 per cent last year while fertilizer tonnage was up 2 per cent.

Total cargo through the Port of Hamilton during the 2013 shipping season was more than 10 million tonnes, essentially flat compared to 10.3 million tonnes in 2012 and 10 million in 2011.

The grain handled at Hamilton’s port terminal includes more than 1.3 million tonnes of soybeans, canola, wheat and corn, most of it grown by southern Ontario farmers for export to global markets. Grain handling facilities in Hamilton include investments in port facilities by companies such as Sylvite Agri-Services Ltd., Parrish and Heimbecker and Richardson International. Last year Sylvite opened two new liquid fertilizer storage tanks worth $4 million. Together, they hold the equivalent of four Olympic-sized swimming pools of fertilizer. Parrish and Heimbecker spent more than $30 million to inflate two storage bubbles at the foot of Wentworth Street to hold 56,000 tonnes of grain.

Increases were also noted last year in such cargo as iron ore, salt and gasoline, offsetting decreases in steel-related freight such as coal, coke and finished steel.

Specifically, Hamilton handled 7.35 million tonnes of steel-related products last year compared to 1.3 million tonnes of grain. Where steel represented 79.1 per cent of the port’s volume in 2009 it now stands for 73.3 per cent. Agricultural products, including grain and fertilizer, have risen in the same period from 9.8 per cent to 17.8 per cent.

Making the switch from an almost total reliance on steel to other products has been part of an ongoing effort by the port authority to diversify its range of cargo and to attract $500 million in new investment.

Both parts of the campaign are going well, Hamilton said.

“This has been a slow process, but we have a lot of new terminals and investment now,” he said. “We’re getting close to the halfway mark and we’re still ahead of schedule.”

Grain shipping boat photoRail cars are also a growing part of the port’s business — during the year, 540 more rail cars transited the port, bringing the annual total to just over 3,800 cars.

Grain cargo was also responsible for helping the St. Lawrence Seaway finish 2013 on a strong note. In a news release Monday the Seaway’s management company reported a late harvest on the plains resulted in record breaking volumes of grain moving through the system in December.

Despite the cold snap enveloping much of North America, a total of 4.4 million tonnes of cargo moved through the Seaway in December, 130,000 tonnes more than last December and beating the five year December average volume by 20 per cent.

Seaway tonnage for the 2013 navigation season was 37 million tonnes, 5.3 per cent below the volume of 2012. Overall grain tonnage was down 3.2 per cent in 2013 as much of the record crop was quite late and ended up being stored for movement when the Seaway reopens sometime in March.

“We expect cargo volume at the start of next year will be all right because of what’s backed up,” Hamilton said.

Adding to the sense of optimism for this year is a generally positive outlook for the regional and national economy.

Article courtesy of Steve Arnold, The Hamilton Spectator

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