Aerial View of Containers

Advent of Containerization

Unlike staple-crops that lend themselves to bulk-handling in large volumes, specialty crops move in smaller lots to disparate destinations, requiring containerized shipping. More importantly, market demand for specialty-crops, and the prices they fetch, are driven by specific attributes, whether headed for final consumption or further processing. Naturally, they cannot enter the bulk-streams, and have to be shipped with crop-integrity intact from farm-gate to final-destination -- grown to particular specifications, cleaned, graded, tested, and shipped sealed for identity-preservation.

In the early days containerization was viewed as a luxury only a few very high-value crops could afford, but the container-scene has changed dramatically with advances in intermodal-systems. It was not too long ago that a 2000 TEU container-ship was considered large; now the largest class is more than 20,000 TEU, with theoretical capacity to carry 400,000 tons, about the same as the largest bulk-vessel in the world. With the construction of mega container ports and integration with inland rail and truck services, container-shipping now dominates the world-trade scene.


With a 40 year background in transport cost analysis, in Canada and worldwide, we have been following trends in all modes -- truck, rail, water and intermodal. Even 15-20 years ago container shipping costs were at a significant premium over bulk, but now per ton costs from the Prairies to Asian ports are comparable to bulk. For specialty-crops containerization is mostly necessary but even for staple-crops containers have become competitive with bulk-systems. Moreover, receivers realize further savings at their end, especially where extensive inland distribution is involved

In Canada, US and Australia containerized share of grain exports are still in the 10-15% range, but much higher in continental Europe, particularly within EU. In most emerging grain-regions, like across Caucasia and Central Asia where crop production is on the rise, all trades are being containerized, driven by China’s Road-and-Belt initiatives. Now almost all of China’s grain imports from its west, rapidly increasing volumes, are coming in containers, with huge distribution cost advantages across the country. Same trends are rapidly taking hold across other parts of Asia.

Advent of Containerization:
Supply-Chain Trends and Intermodal Systems

Based on our previous work on container-trades and intermodal-systems, in North America and around the world (particularly China), we are now compiling a report on this topic (which will be available on this portal early in 2022).  In addition to a review of global-trends, it will examine system constraints in Western Canada that hold back the region's containerized export potential.

A Crane Lifting a Container
Financial Report

Transport Cost Comparisons:
A guide to truck-rail-vessel shipping costs

The information base we are assembling will provide insights into transport costs from all major intermodal centers in the Prairies to different export markets -- from farm-gate to final delivery-points.  The guide will not only provide rates quoted by carriers but also give cost-references (based on our own analysis) on each transport-link -- truck, rail, shipping, as well as terminal-handling charges.