Cargoes through port down in 2022 — especially grain, which had its lowest season since 1890

Salt and general cargo were up.

691 foot long cargo ship departs Duluth in winter
The laker H. Lee White departs through the ship canal on Dec. 26 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The amount of cargo moved through the Port of Duluth-Superior was down in the 2022 shipping season. Most notably, it was the lowest year for grain exports since 1890.

Approximately 30.4 million short tons of cargo moved through the port, down 7.6% compared to last year and down 7% compared to the five-year average, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority said in a news release Friday.

Grain shipments fell 20.3% compared to last year with only 644,600 tons recorded this season. It's the lowest in 133 years.

As the News Tribune reported in December, the drop in grain exports was driven by several factors, including fewer salties coming in, higher transportation costs, a poor crop, the war in Ukraine and a strong dollar.

Fewer salties coming in, higher transportation costs, a poor crop, the war in Ukraine and a strong dollar all play a role.

While grain was down overall, some grains performed better than others. For example, more than 150,000 tons of beet pulp pellets were shipped, up 85% compared to last year and the most since 2014, the Port Authority said.


As usual, iron ore was king, accounting for almost two-third of the port's total tonnage.

Nearly 19 million tons of iron ore was shipped out, down 7.3% compared to last year but within 2.3% of the five-season average.

The amount of coal also fell, with 6.9 million tons shipped last year, down 13% compared to the year before.

Coal shipments have been trending down as coal-fired power plants retire.

But some cargoes increased.

grain shipments.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
shipping tonage end of year.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The Port Authority pointed to general cargo shipments — including 260-foot wind turbine blades, a 125-ton Yankee dryer for ST Paper in Duluth and other industrial equipment — which accounted for 118,000 tons, four times the five-year average and the most since 1986.

“On the positive side, 2022 was a terrific season for general cargo tonnage, and while it doesn’t offset grain or coal in total tonnage, those general cargo shipments deliver outsized economic value per ton in comparison, and they also support development of regional industry and greener energy sources, so they represent a big win for our port and our region,” Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said in the release.

Cargo is unloaded from a ship.
Two cranes lift a huge Yankee dryer, the final major component for a newly constructed paper machine at Duluth’s ST Paper mill, from the M/V Federal Kumano.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

Salt tonnage increased 26% compared to 2021. Limestone, which had a "massive 2021," was down 6% in 2022, but still 6% above its five-year average, the Port Authority said.


The shipping season ended in January. Although the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, closed Jan. 16, the freighter Saginaw left the port of Duluth-Superior on Jan. 21 and delivered 16,000 tons of iron ore to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario's Algoma Steel facility, which is above the Soo Locks. It is the latest a ship has left the port since 1975, the Port Authority said.

A semi sits loaded Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 7, with a 260 foot wind turbine blade destined for Alberta, Canada
A semitrailer sits loaded with a 260-foot wind turbine blade destined for Alberta, Canada. The blades are the longest to ever be transported through the port of Duluth-Superior.
Jed Carlson / 2022 file / Superior Telegram

The 2023 shipping season will start March 25 when the Soo Locks reopen. The locks connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron and the rest of the Great Lakes.

The St. Lawrence Seaway, which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, typically reopens in late March.

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Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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