Farmers feeling the squeeze over Seaway strike

A laker on the St. Lawrence Seaway (Ad Meskens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike some other North American ports, the St. Lawrence Seaway shipping corridor is seasonal, and the labour dispute holding up product movement is putting serious stress on Ontario’s agriculture sector during the harvest period.

An estimated $20 million per day of grain isn’t moving through the St. Lawrence Seaway after members of UNIFOR went on strike on Oct. 22 — and the countdown is on to move nearly 80 per cent of Ontario’s fertilizer needs inland for 2024, says Brendan Byrne, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO).

Byrne says some soybeans are not yet harvested and corn harvest is just starting, but some elevators are already limiting or even stopping receiving grain due to the Seaway strike.

The is a critical time not just for grain movement out of the province, but also product movement in, too. Byrne notes the majority of fertilizer for the next growing season moves inland in the fall so it’s in place for the busy spring season. What’s more, the Seaway closes in winter, usually around the Christmas holiday season, so there is limited opportunity to make up for lost time.

Byrne says that GFO is pushing for a fast resolution to the situation, however, the two sides seem very far apart, according to reports. There is federal legislation that requires grain movement continue through licensed terminals even during a work stoppage, but a ruling on that point has not yet been made public. The two sides are set to resume talks on Friday.

Grain movement and elevator capacity will be especially critical in the next few weeks, as the initial DON survey shows higher than ideal levels in pockets of the province’s corn crop. Getting suspect corn out of the field quickly is a major risk mitigation tool for DON management.

Each year, six million tonnes of grain flows through the Seaway, GFO says. In an average month, between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of grain travels through the Seaway to people in Canada, Europe, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and more.

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