CanEst Transit launches new era of grain transport at the Port of Montreal

From left to right, Denis Richard, President, La Coop fédérée, Louis laporte, Vice-president, director, Beaudier,
Michael Fratianni, CEO, MGTP, Pierre Dagenais, President, CanEst Transit, Aref Salem, Executive
committee member in charge of transportation, Ville de Montréal, Sylvie Vachon, President and CEO of
the Port of Montréal.

The Port of Montreal welcomes a new heyday in grain transportation with the opening of the CanEst Transit facility Sept. 2.

“Our ability to sort, sift, clean, condition, isolate, store and containerize grain and other agricultural products for local and international markets is unique in North America,” says Réal Bélanger, CanEst Transit’s general manager.

Signing a 40-year lease with the Montreal Port Authority, CanEst’s founders have invested more than $24 million to overhaul the annex of the former No. 3 grain silo within the port’s premises at Notre-Dame St., near Bourbonnière, in the city’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district.
“We striped the building down to its shell, scrubbed everything, and installed state-of-the-art equipment that maximizes automation, worker safety and energy efficiency, while minimizing noise and dust,” Bélanger says.

“CanEst fits perfectly with the port’s mission to provide value-added services to our tenants and their customers,” Sylvie Vachon, the Montreal Port Authority’s president and CEO, states. “We expect it to attract new international markets for our port users.”

Shippers now have greater flexibility to deliver agricultural products in a more convenient format and volumes within containers to overseas markets where some ports aren’t even equipped to receive bulk shipments anymore. “It’s much easier to find a buyer for 20 to 22 containerized tonnes on a regular basis than secure a market for 50 to 55 bulk tonnes,” notes Simon Baillargeon, general manager in charge of the grain sector at La Coop fédérée, one of the project’s three major investors.

Who are the key investors ?

La Coop fédérée is Quebec’s largest agricultural cooperative enterprise with 9,000 employees and 300 expert consultants to provide the vast majority of the province’s farmers with seeds, equipment, plant histories, best management practices, and the latest agricultural science and technology. The Coop plays a pivotal role in securing markets for 2.2 million tonnes of Quebec grain annually, as well as numerous other agricultural produce.

“With market development and expansion for Quebec grain being one of our top priorities, we’re obviously very excited about the new prospects that CanEst offers local producers either directly or through our cooperative,” Baillergeon says. “We also see great potential for the increasingly diversified crops that Quebec farmers are successfully growing and want to export to Ontario, the northeast U.S. and overseas.”

MGT Holdings, a majority owner of the Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership (MGT), is another primary investor. Operating at the Port of Montreal since 1969, MGT expects the CanEst services to generate new markets and greater containerized volumes for its terminals, vessel routes and trucking network, as well as those of other companies at the port. “It’s so important for port stakeholders to regularly invest in ancillary services that will attract more business and to have the Montreal Port Authority’s full support, as we do, for this kind of initiative,” says Michael Fratianni, CanEst board member and MGT’s CEO.

“We certainly saw this as a much needed project to expand the options we can offer to the agricultural sector in moving its products via the Eastern corridor,” he adds. “And we expect CanEst’s capability to store crops in the required large volumes and then containerize and ship them as needed on a regular basis to be very attractive to shippers, especially with the array of services conveniently and economically available at this one facility within the port.”

CanEst’s other major stakeholder, Transit BD, is comprised of two investor groups that include the people who originally came up with the idea. One of them is Pierre Dagenais, CanEst’s president, who is well known in Quebec and Canada’s grain industry with more than 45 years of experience in the business. “Our thorough knowledge of the business and existing relationships are certainly helping us out of the starting gate and I believe will continue to serve us well,” Dagenais says. “It’s great how much support we already have to make the Port of Montreal a cereal transporting capital again.”

"The annex's immense warehousing space and its strategic location by the St. Lawrence River,
CN and CP train lines, and trucking routes within the port make it ideal for our purposes", said
Réal Bélanger, General director, CanEst Transit.

Significant cost-savings

The shorter distances and, therefore, time and money involved in shipping agricultural products through the Eastern corridor (as opposed to out West and back eastwards through the Panama Canal) are expected to entice shippers involved in Northern and Western European, Mediterranean and Middle East markets, now that containerization is available.

CanEst is ready to annually receive up to 200,000 tonnes of bulk and sack-filled shipments of grain, peas, lentils, soybeans and other harvests from Quebec, Ontario, the Canadian Prairies and American mid-West by trucks or 25 to 50 railcars at once. “As a promoter of Quebec agricultural products, La Coop fédérée is particularly excited about the new overseas customer base that containerization opens up for Quebec farmers,” Baillargeon says. “This new facility also enables Quebec producers to work with the Coop to sell containerized products either to new Canadian and American customers directly or through CanEst.”

The former grain elevator dated back to 1923 when the Port of Montreal was the world’s largest cereal port. The annex – the only lasting structure – was built five years later to keep up with demand and remained in service until 1993. “The annex’s immense warehousing space and its strategic location by the St. Lawrence River, CN and CP train lines, and trucking routes within the port make it ideal for our purposes,” Bélanger says. “We’re delighted to give this historic place a renaissance.”

CanEst’s  is able to store up to 68,000 tonnes of crops among 56 silos bearing up to 900-tonnes each and 35 silos ranging from 300 to 500 tonnes in capacity. “The large number of silos enables us to complete special orders such as isolating organic and genetically unmodified yields of soybeans according to the strict procedures required by customers in Japan and elsewhere,” Bélanger explains.  “Our storage capacity will eliminate transport congestion by freeing railcars and trucks to quickly return to collect more harvest.”

Phase II of the project – scheduled for next year – will enable CanEst to receive an additional 100,000 tonnes from ships. “Being able to transfer grain directly from a ship into our facilities and then in containerized form onto an oceangoing vessel will further save our customers time and money,” Bélanger promises. “It’ll also reduce their environmental footprint because marine transport is the most fuel-efficient mode.”

With the port authority solidly behind the project, CanEst and its investors are looking forward to a bright new era for Montreal in handling grain and other crops.