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World food demand drives potash boom for NV port

A jump in global food prices driven in part by a soaring population has resulted in a windfall for local ports.

A jump in global food prices driven in part by a soaring population has resulted in a windfall for local ports.

Shipments of potash out of North Vancouver's Neptune Terminals rose 37 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to last, according to mid-year results released Thursday by Port Metro Vancouver. The increase, which brings the terminal's total to 3.8 million tonnes, is partly the result of rising demand for food, since the chemical is a key component in fertilizer. Last year's total also marked a substantial jump from the previous year, when total tonnage rose 143 per cent. The five biggest markets for potash are Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"Potash markets continue to be strong," said James Belsheim, president of Neptune. "It's fundamental to crops all around the world."

The chemical, together with coal and forest products, was among the commodities boosting figures for total tonnage handled by Port Metro Vancouver

in the first half of this year.

Overall volumes handled by the port were 58.7 million tonnes between January and June 2011, a one per cent increase over the same period in 2010.

Neptune is just finishing an expansion of its potashhandling facility that will improve speed and efficiency and allow faster loading of ships, said Belsheim, bringing the terminal's potash-handling capacity to 11 million tonnes. The project will also allow the terminal to run more shifts at the potash-handling facility during the year.

"We're just finishing construction," said Belsheim. "We're very pleased with the end result."

In addition to rising food demand, the increase in volume also reflects a rebound from the global economic recession two years ago that caused potash volumes to fall off, said Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer for the port.

Coal is another product that's brought figures for overall tonnage up this year. Overall coal shipments are up two per cent, although shipments of metallurgical coal used in steelmaking are down slightly from 11.6 million tonnes in the first half of last year to 9.8 million tonnes this year.

So far the dip hasn't affected Neptune, said Belsheim. "Our volumes are tracking consistently with last year," he said - when the terminal shipped more than six million tonnes of metallurgical coal.

Metallurgical coal is primarily shipped to steel mills in Asia, including those in China, Japan and Korea.

Neptune is also in the midst of plans to invest in $63.5 million worth of new equipment for its coal-handling facility that will increase the terminal's coal-handling capacity to 12.5 million tonnes annually from its present eight million tonnes.

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