Larger elevators, smaller rail cars seen in grain’s future

Winnipeg | CNS Canada –– Heading into the future, elevators will be more efficient and trains will carry more grain, according to industry professionals at the Grain World conference in Winnipeg.

“I think there’s a real shift happening from low efficiency to the higher-efficiency facilities,” Karl Gerrand, CEO of G3, said Wednesday during the What will the Canadian grain industry look like in 10 years? panel.

Almost 3,000 elevators dotted the Prairies in the 1980s, compared to just under 350 today, as elevators become larger and more efficient.

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According to Gerrand, facilities being built in Canada are now large loop systems that can handle more train cars.

“The loop tracks that we’re putting on our new facilities will load grain actually in about just under eight hours, a full 134-car train,” he said.

Some older facilities can only handle under 100 cars and don’t feature loop systems, which make for longer loading times.

It’s not just the size of elevators that have increased, he said, but also the amount of on-farm storage space.

Canadian farmers have added 15 million tonnes to their storage, he said, “bringing it to about 70 million metric tonnes. Commercial storage, on the other hand, is in that seven- to eight-million-metric-tonne range.”

The rail cars used to transport grain are also changing. Out of about 23,000 hopper cars in Canada, 10,000 are owned by the federal government and are reaching the end of their life expectancies.

According to David Przednowek, director of grain marketing for CN, the government cars will be out of use by 2025-26 and aren’t expected to be replaced.

“The model is very efficient in terms of private cars but there are definitely (changes) that we’re going to see over time and the proportion of private cars in western Canada will increase,” he said.

The type of grain cars we see travelling on the tracks will also change; according to Przednowek, hopper cars of the future will be higher in capacity, shorter in length.

“The more capacity for the more tonnes that we can ship by using individual trains (makes for) a lot more efficient supply chain,” he said.

According to Gerrand those trains will be able to cut down shipping time for more efficiencies. Trains will be in the 134- to 150-car range and will haul 20 per cent more grain.

The cycle time from farm to elevator to port and back “has typically been in that 20-day range and that’s back in 2015. Of late we’ve been moving more towards the 14-day range.”

G3 is also now building a new Vancouver port terminal which, according to Gerrand, will allow it to cut that cycle time to seven days.

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @AshleyMR1993 on Twitter.

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Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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