Eastern Ontario farmers worry harvest won’t get to market by ship
OTTAWA — As the last weekend of October approached, Ontario farmers and agricultural organizations had their fingers crossed in hopes that St. Lawrence River and Welland canal ship traffic would resume. Canadian lock workers went on strike Oct. 22, shutting down the crucial waterway and 13 canal locks that carry out crops to the Atlantic Ocean.
Negotiations between the UNIFOR union and the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation — which operates Canada’s Seaway and canal lock system — were set to resume Friday, Oct. 27.
With ships idle at port, the shutdown threatened to leave Ontario’s outgoing soybean and corn crop stuck in storage. Farmers fear that if the Seaway is shut down long enough, they may be compelled to leave corn in the field.
Incoming shipments of fertilizer needed for next spring could also be disrupted. The Seaway is already under a natural deadline, the arrival of winter, which typically closes the St. Lawrence River between early January and late March.
“I’m scared as sh– looking at what’s going on,” Lambton County cash cropper Emery Huszka said. “We can have storage problems here real quick. We could have fertilizer impacts … the Seaway is only open when it’s nice out. Once it starts freezing up, we’re waiting till spring. We can’t wait till spring to start delivering that stuff.”
“This is a crucial time for the grain harvest in Ontario and the closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway could mean that in a matter of days many farmers will have nowhere to deliver grain and we risk the grain staying on the field too long,” Grain Farmers of Ontario Chair Brendan Byrne said.
The Grain Farmers and Fertilizer Canada, a fertilizer industry group, both called on Ottawa to intervene.
Morrisburg cashcropper Warren Schneckenburger said he heard that the elevators in Hamilton could be plugged with Ontario soybeans as early as Oct. 28 if nothing moves.
The U.S. farmbelt also needs access to the Seaway and it was not immediately clear how much pressure the U.S. administration has put on Prime Minister Trudeau to end the strike.