Canadian lock strike creates another ag shipping problem

American farmers and agribusinesses now have two major obstacles to shipping commodities. 

Mike Steenhoek with the Soy Transportation Coalition tells Brownfield the 360 members of the UNIFOR union went on strike Sunday, idling thirteen Canadian locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway. “Any closure at one of the locks will basically close the whole system and the net result is that there are no imports coming into the system, no exports leaving from the system, and obviously, it’s just one more challenge facing agriculture’s supply chain.”

The closed St. Lawrence Seaway system coupled with low water levels on the lower Mississippi River make it difficult to export grain or import fertilizer. “It really should just emphasize the need to have alternative routes, and that includes the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, to be operating at full capacity, to have the welcome mat open. This is the time to have that, and unfortunately, this strike is not allowing that to occur.”

Recent improvements in port infrastructure in places like Duluth and Milwaukee have made it easier to export commodities, but nothing can move until the locks reopen.

Steenhoek says the Seaway accounts for about 1% of soybean-related shipments, but that was growing with new infrastructure in ports like Milwaukee and Duluth.  Steenhoek says the railroads claim to have more capacity to haul commodities, but he says it’s unclear if rail and trucks will be economically viable for those who usually use barges and ships, and offloading ships to rail to get around the locks is expensive.

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