When Canadian agri-business company Parrish & Heimbecker’s new domed grain silo popped up on Hamilton’s port lands seemingly overnight, the city’s local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, described it as looking like a “gargantuan golf ball in a giant water hazard.”
The dome was in fact the first of two 28,000 tonne grain silos built in 2011 that have become emblematic of the city’s transforming skyline and evolving role as a major gateway for agri-food exports.
“The average Canadian might not associate agriculture with Hamilton,” said Neil Everson, Director of the City of Hamilton’s Economic Development Office. “In fact, agri-business represents a $1.5 billion industry in this community.”
The Port of Hamilton has been a major driver of this growth, attracting more than $40 million in agri-food-related capital investment in recent years. The port is home to companies that comprise a vital agricultural sector ‘food chain’, including: Two of Canada’s leading grain handlers, Parrish & Heimbecker and Richardson International; Bunge Canada, operating one of Ontario’s largest oilseed crush facilities; Agrico and Sylvite Agri-Services, specializing in the handling of fertilizers; Toronto Tank Lines, Vopak Terminals and Westway Terminals, providing storage and trans-loading of biodiesel, seed oil and other liquid commodities; and Biox biodiesel, processing agricultural material into green fuel.
HPA’s export capacity helps meets global demand
“Agri-food is growing in leaps and bounds,” said Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) President and CEO Bruce Wood. “The port’s export capacity has expanded alongside steadily rising global demand for Ontario grain.”
The 2014 season looks like another strong one for Ontario grain producers looking to export their product. At the shipping season’s mid-point, grain shipments through the Port of Hamilton had surged by 94 per cent compared to the same point in 2013.
“This season we have had a match-up of big crops and a strong global demand,” said Robert Bryson, Vice President of the Parrish & Heimbecker Grain Group. “The Great Lakes-Seaway has been critical to exporting these huge volumes. It looks like it will be busy right up to the next harvest, and we should have a strong last quarter.”
“We had a lineup of vessels ready to load as soon as the Seaway opened this season,” recalls HPA’s Bruce Wood. The port’s first overseas vessel departed Hamilton in April carrying a load of Ontario corn to Ireland.
The majority of these agri-food exports leaving the port are destined for Europe and Asia.
“This type of strong growth in the agriculture sector should last for quite some time,” notes Peter Hall, Chief Economist at Export Development Canada (EDC). “We’re seeing huge growth of emerging market middle classes, largely because of higher medium-term global activity. That means more of these people will want to consume more food products, especially meat, which should put exponential pressure on global food supplies.”
Hamilton and agriculture: who knew?
Hamilton’s emergence as critical export infrastructure for Ontario’s agricultural sector has been remarkably quick. Agricultural cargo tonnages have more than doubled from 815,000 metric tonnes (Mt) in 2009 to 1.8 million Mt in 2013. Agricultural commodities now represent 18 per cent of the port’s total tonnage, up from 9 per cent in 2009.
“The Port of Hamilton has always enjoyed a strategic location that makes it attractive to Ontario exporters,” said Bruce Wood. “But the rapid growth in agricultural cargo capacity has resulted directly from two factors: new and expanded terminal operations; and more robust multimodal connections.”
Terminals play an important role in matching the flow of commodities to the demands of export markets, providing storage and finding markets for domestic surpluses. Increased capacity translates into real bottom-line benefit for producers and shippers, often affording a critical edge in competitive global markets.
When it comes to multimodal connectivity, HPA has been making strategic investments designed to ensure shippers have access to the right mode at the right time, and in particular to encourage more cargo deliveries at the port by rail, explained Wood.
“Better truck, rail and marine connections will help us continue to be the critical link between Ontario food producers and a global market with a big appetite for Ontario product.”