Despite global supply chain SNAFUs and climate change wreaking havoc on BC’s road and rail infrastructure, 2021 has proven to be the busiest year in the history of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
The total volume of goods and goods passing through the port reached 146,473,626 tonnes in 2021, up 1% from the previous year.
The North Shore terminals, however, did not necessarily share the record year.
Grain, which is exported from the Richardson International, Cargill Canada and G3 terminals on the North Shore, fell by 13% in 2021.
“But even then, it was the second highest year on record for grain volumes passing through the port, and it shows you how much growth the grain business has seen,” said Robin Silvester, president. and CEO of the Port.
Silvester said the year’s decline in grain is due to poor growing conditions last summer, which resulted in a lower crop.
2021 was the first full year of operation for G3’s massive new waterfront terminal. A lean harvest year, however, doesn’t mean G3 missed the boat.
“There are hundreds of millions invested here and hundreds of millions invested in the Prairies. These investments are long-term,” Silvester said. “This long-term image of Canadian grain is still very strong. Canada’s agricultural technology improves yields. There will be good years and bad years, depending on the rain. But the long-term forecast is always that of growth.
Because global markets are so interconnected, a war on the other side of the world will manifest itself in the Port of Vancouver, predicted Silvester.
“The appalling situation in Ukraine means a lot of the Russian and Ukrainian grain that would have been on the market won’t be,” he said. “I think Canadian grain is going to be in high demand.
Metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking, rose 4%. Neptune Terminals has completed a series of major upgrades over the past year which has increased its overall capacity.
Potash, which Neptune also manages, was also down about 13%. Silvester said that was largely due to supply chain disruptions. It is also poised for a big rebound in 2022 due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The other major potash producers in the world are Belarus and Russia, and it seems unlikely that their product will hit international markets like before,” he said. “It shows how interconnected everything is.”
Overall volumes passing through the port would undoubtedly be higher if November’s atmospheric river had not washed away highways and inland railroads, Silvester said. For eight days there was no freight service between the port and the hubs to the east and for three weeks there was only one rail line open.
The event was a wake-up call, Silvester said, but he also came away impressed with how quickly the devastated infrastructure could be brought back online.
“It also proved the resilience of our supply chain,” he said. “[It was] a remarkable testimony to the ability of the government and the railways to restore service.
Port operations and capacity don’t just impact whether our online orders arrive on time, Silvester noted. They can also be a drag on the Canadian economy as a whole. And Silvester is sounding the alarm: the lack of industrial land next to the port could soon become a major obstacle. Local leaders should be fiercely protective of industrial zoning, he said.
“We want to see affordable housing and jobs that give people a living wage,” he said. “We have the lowest availability of industrial land for new use in all of North America, and that should concern everyone, because roughly 30% of jobs in the region are on industrial land and that doesn’t represents only 4% of the territory, and we lack this territorial base.
Seaspan is currently applying to expand its dry dock business to the west, which has been controversial with residents near the waterfront and the City of North Vancouver, which has been working hard to develop the public gathering place The Shipyards a few meters away.
Rumors that a decision has already been made are just that, Silvester said, as consultations are still ongoing.
“I understand that’s going to happen over the spring,” he said. “If someone tells you that the decision is made, I can tell you categorically that they are not right.”