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Exports Boost US And Canadian Grain Volumes

U.S. and Canadian railroads continued to move significant amounts of grain in November as export demand boosted grain movements.

Indeed, last month’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture anticipates U.S. soybean exports in the 2020-2021 crop year to grow to 2.2 billion bushels, compared with 1.7 billion bushels in 2019-2020. And Canadian wheat exports are expected to total around 25 million metric tonnes (MMTs) in 2020-2021, compared with 24.6 MMT in 2019-2020.

Here’s a look at U.S. and Canadian grain volumes in November.

November the second-best month for Canadian grain

In Canada, both CN (NYSE: CNI) and Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) reported November-record totals that were just shy of the all-time records set in October.

CN moved 3.12 MMT in November, down from the 3.27 MMT moved in October but still well above the 3 MMT mark.

The railway said containerized grain “is also setting records,” with over 400,000 metric tonnes moved from western Canada since the start of the crop year on Aug. 1. Tonnage is also being shipped from Eastern Canada, CN said. 

“We are proud of the role we are playing in keeping the agri-food supply chain moving, and we are preparing for the challenges that the colder months will have in store. We remain on track to keep meeting our objectives as set out in the 2020-2021 Grain Plan and Winter Plan,” said CN Chief Operating Officer Rob Reilly. “The new high-efficiency grain hopper cars that have started coming into service will also help us move more grain. Our CN team of expert railroaders along with every link in the supply chain are mobilized and working together to get natural resources to end markets and help supply the world with Canadian grain.”

Meanwhile, CP said November’s grain volumes of 2.96 MMT were the best ever for the month. The total was 8% higher than what CP moved in November 2019, and it was the second-highest monthly total ever for the company. 

“From a combine’s first cut in the field to a ship’s departure from port, so many dedicated individuals, teams and organizations must come together to make grain transportation a success,” said Joan Hardy, CP vice president of sales and marketing for grain and fertilizers. “As we reflect on the record movements of grain this crop year, we must think about the hard-working people across the supply chain who’ve helped to feed the world in a year of great adversity.”


U.S. grain carloads (in blue) and Canadian grain carloads (in green) over the past year. (FreightWaves SONAR)

Grain traffic boosts November U.S. carload volumes

Meanwhile, in the U.S., grain carloads rose 23.1% in November, according to data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR). 

Year-to-date grain volumes totaled 1.06 million carloads for the week that ended on Saturday. The total is 2.6% higher than the same period a year ago. Indeed, grain is the only category within both U.S. carload and intermodal volumes that shows a positive percentage gain year-over-year on a year-to-date basis.

“Excluding coal, total U.S. rail carloads [for November] are now very close to where they were before the pandemic hit, with grain volumes approaching record highs due to soybean exports,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

AAR also reported that U.S. carloads in November slipped 5.8% year-over-year to 900,194, while intermodal volumes rose 11.5% to 1.14 million containers and trailers. Together, November volumes were 3.1% higher at 2.04 million carloads and intermodal units.


U.S. rail carloads (blue: RTOTC.USA), intermodal trailers (orange: RTOIT.CLASSI) and containers (green: RTOIC.CLASSI) over the past year. (FreightWaves SONAR)

“U.S. rail traffic continued to make up lost ground in November. … Meanwhile, U.S. intermodal volumes have seen near-record highs the past couple months due to both import volumes and internet purchasing by consumers,” Gray said. “Railroads join everyone else in hoping that the recent surge in COVID-19 infection rates across the country recedes quickly and that our nation can return to a path of improved personal and economic health.”

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related articles:

Containerized grain shippers feeling brunt of tight market

Canadian railways crush October grain records amid export boom

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