Companies are rushing to get boxes to Asia so consumer goods made in factories there can be shipped to North America in time for Christmas. That's more profitable than waiting for boxes to be filled with peas and lentils.
As a result, tons remain in storage on farms and in elevators. The shortage has also hit American cotton, hay and grain as well, prompting the US Federal Maritime Commission to investigate 'potentially unreasonable practices' around container return and other issues.
The bottleneck is affecting farmers just as exports to Asia and India pick up following the large Canadian harvest. Global demand is on the rise as they are increasingly processed into plant protein for meat substitutes, pasta and snacks.
Due to their smaller order sizes, peas and lentils are affected more than grains such as wheat, which is exported in bulk and don't need containers.
Montreal's Ray-Mont Logistiques, a transloading company that can handle about 5,000 containers a month in Vancouver, has seen the amount of grain that it can transfer from rail cars to containers there drop by one-third to one-half since mid-October.
The shipping constraints may last at least into the first quarter, said Ray-Mont vice president Stephen Paul.