Iron ore in 2022 was once again king of the hill at the Port of Duluth-Superior.
Iron ore shipments from the port accounted for 62.5 percent of the port’s total cargo shipments during the year, according to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
“You can’t overstate the importance of iron ore to the port of Duluth-Superior,” Jayson Hron, Duluth Seaway Port Authority director of communication and marketing said. “It’s our king cargo.”
During 2022, 18.9 million short tons of iron ore pellets were shipped out of the port, according to the port authority.
In addition to iron ore pellets, a variety of other products required by the mining industry also arrive and depart from the port, Mike Jugovich, of Chisholm, a St. Louis County Commissioner and member of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority board said.
“It’s huge for the port,” Jugovich said. “People don’t realize such a high percentage of mining-related materials are going in and out of the port. It’s not just pellets.”
The port in 2022 shipped a total of 30.4 million short tons of cargo, including iron ore, salt, cement, coal, grain, beet pulp pellets.
While the pellet total was healthy, iron ore shipments from the port were down from 20.4 million short tons shipped in 2021 and within 2.3 percent of five-year average.
The drop in shipments correlates with lower iron ore pellet production totals during 2022 at all six northeastern Minnesota taconite plants.
“It does seem to be the case that demand is a little softer than it was a year ago,” Hron said.
The year started out in January with a surge in iron ore shipments as steel mills resupplied pellet inventories.
In January, 979,000 short tons of iron ore pellets were shipped from the port, the largest total since 2003 when electronic records were kept.
As the year went on, 5.5 million short tons of the 18.9 million ton total were exported to customers outside the United States, including the Algoma Steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
The final two shipments of the year both went to Algoma Steel, according to the port authority.
Iron ore shipped from the Duluth-Superior Port has for more than 100 years been the port’s top commodity, Hron said.
“Typically, iron ore comprises more than half of our total tonnage,” Hron said. “As we try to increase our overall cargo puzzle, our natural resources will always be an important part of the port.”
Iron ore shipments for 2022 also slipped at ports in Silver Bay and Two Harbors.
Shipments from Northshore Mining Co.’s processing plant in Silver Bay fell to 1.7 million short tons compared to 5.9 million short tons in 2021, according to the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers’ Association.
Northshore Mining Co. was idled in May 2022 by owner Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc. and remained down into 2023.
Shipments from Two Harbors were 13.9 million tons in 2022, down from 15.4 million in 2021, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association.
Overall, 42.3 million tons of iron ore were shipped on the Great Lakes in 2022, an 18 percent decline compared to 2021, the Lake Carriers’ Association said.
Jugovich said a restart of Northshore Mining Co. and a solution to the crude ore supply at Hibbing Taconite Co. are critical to the future of the Iron Range, region and state.
“Hibbing Taconite is running on fumes right now,” Jugovich said. “Hibbing Taconite and Northshore have to be the most important issues in mining. We need to have both those facilities operating.”
Jugovich called on the state of Minnesota to act on the mineral leases on 2,664 acres of state land near Nashwauk that had been held by Mesabi Metallics.
The leases were terminated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The termination was upheld in two courts and a Mesabi Metallics petition to review the two court rulings was denied by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“We need the governor to step in and put us in a direction so at least we know what direction we are going,” Jugovich said, “This is something that could really be avoided if we get together. It’s 750 jobs (at Hibbing Taconite) and then it’s all the other jobs.”
The link between iron ore pellets produced in northeastern Minnesota and the port’s success, remain inextricably linked.
Business at the Port of Duluth-Superior supports about 3,000 direct jobs and 7,881 indirect jobs, according to Hron.
The port generates about $1.4 billion each year in revenue and produces about $240 million in tax revenues, Hron said.
“It remains a strong economic driver not only to the Duluth-Superior port, but to the region as a whole,” Hron said.
Iron ore pellets produced at northeastern Minnesota taconite plants are the raw material used to make steel in blast furnaces.
As the domestic steel industry goes, so do northeastern Minnesota taconite plants.
Based on preliminary U.S. Census Bureau data, finished steel imports of 25,249,000 tons into the United States during 2022 were up 10.9 percent compared to 2021, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).
Total steel imports of 30,832,000 tons for the year were down two percent compared to 2021.
For the full year, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, and Japan, were the largest suppliers of steel into the United States.
Post a comment as anonymous
Watch this discussion.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.