Solid 2022 Shipping Season at the Port of Thunder Bay
by Scott A. Sumner
The shipping season started in late March 2022 and ended January 15th, 2023. That is when the Soo Locks close as they are run by the Army Core of Engineers and it has always been that way. Overall the season has been a pretty good one for the Port of Thunder Bay.
“This season has been good weather wise. It started out cold and then ice started to form but the recent big winds blew the ice out causing it not to form in many areas. Then it warmed up,” said Tim Heney, CEO Port of Thunder Bay. “At this time there is some ice in the Kam River up to the grain elevators there. The Mobile X terminal has one more ship to come in this season. In that area the wind doesn’t affect it as much. We may have to get an ice breaker in there. If you get straight 40 below, or even 20 below temperatures, you can gain 4 inches of ice >per day.”
The shipping season is about 10 months long these days and that is up about 25% over the early years in the fifties. There have been some efforts made to make it longer. This weather is still variable though and the Port of Thunder Bay have had years when the ice breaker is here in June.
How did the Port of Thunder Bay perform this shipping season?
“ It was fortunate for us with potash shipments higher which was related to the Ukraine situation. Grain was down as the crop was pretty poor last year. Usually you have two parts to the season, the leftover from last years harvest and the current years harvest which starts in the fall. This year there wasn’t much leftover from the prior years harvest. The harvest this year was the third best in history so it started to balance out from where it was.The wet spring did cause a later planting.You need 90 days of good weather.” said Tim Heney.
“ There are no ships that come to Thunder Bay empty. They may come into Lake Michigan and have a load up to Thunder Bay at least for part of their overall journey. The ships come from Europe with various steel parts usually and then return with grain. Europe is well known for steel production and Canada hasn’t made certain types of steel for many years so there is a lot of imported steel.”
“ Overall the season came out pretty well for us over last year.We are down because of the grain.The grain was 6.3 million tonnes and last year 7.2 million, and normally we are over 8 million so a pretty weak year for grain. Potash was 1.2 million versus 600,000 last year so double and made up for some grain.Overall we were down about 5% which was pretty good considering what it looked like in the spring. Grain is a large portion of the shipments through the Port.”
The Port of Thunder Bay has diversified over the years which has helped operations?
“ All of our buildings at the port are full as there is a big demand for warehousing with the pandemic because of the take off of couriers and companies like Amazon. Direct delivery businesses require warehouse space.We have the largest warehouse space between Sault Ste Marie and Winnipeg.”
“The continuing of Phosphate shipments from Morocco is a new thing for us.”
“ The best thing for us was pipe shipments coming from Europe. Once you get good at handling it it is very consistent, a repeat business.”
How did the Ukraine conflict affect the port?
“ We couldn’t supply the short fall of grain because of the Ukraine war because we didn’t have the harvest to ship. It will be interesting to see how much grain we will have this year to ship because of the Ukraine situation. The crops around the world affect the situation. Ukraine grain is relied upon for some markets.
The 2023 season looks to be better for the Port of Thunder Bay?
“We feel grain will be better this year and are hoping to build on this pipe business, as well as potash. There is a new potash mine coming on board in Saskatchewan, which was accelerated due to the demand for potash in the world, so that will help us.”
“ The Port is linked to the outside world and things from very far away can affect us. We were affected by Covid and the situation in the US with the tariffs during the Trump years which affected steel shipments and actually benefited us. Supply chains were dramatically affected by Covid and are still affected.The trucker situation has had an impact with driver availability and electronic logs especially to the US.”
“ We are strengthening the business development side of the port with the appointment of Chris Heikkinen to a new position.We had one retirement.”