Contractors that rely on salt to fulfill their winter contracts shouldn’t plan on any relief this coming season, as a salt shortage is expected to continue.
Last year, labour strikes, freak weather events and a leaking salt mine all helped create the perfect storm for a road salt shortage.
“Last year was the first time in our history where salt had to come in from overseas,” said Tony DiGiovanni, executive director of Landscape Ontario.
“It’s pretty interesting because we have the largest salt mine in the world and yet we have to bring in salt.”
While demand for salt has increased in general, a strike at the Goderich,Ontario mine last year depleted production and stockpiling. The mine, operated by Compass Minerals, is the world’s largest salt mine, and marketed under the Sifto brand.
Furthermore, another major mine, operated by Cargill, experienced flooding in its shafts.
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DiGiovanni explained the shortage meant mines could only provide salt for municipal contracts.
“The private industry was cut off. That caused a panic. All of the main suppliers had to go overseas,” he said.
The salt was mainly imported from Egypt and Chile. However, the distance the salt had to travel meant prices would double.
“It sounds like it’s going to be more of the same this year. They’re going to have to rely on salt coming in from overseas,” DiGiovanni said. “Goderich has started to produce more, but not enough for private sector.”
Surviving a salt shortage
Landscape Ontario is advising its members to stockpile salt, if their resources will allow it. Salt is already making its way to Ontario via foreign markets.
Last year, for example, several Ontario contractors created a consortium, combined their resources and purchased two shipments of salt from Egypt.
“If they can, stockpile now. Unfortunately, only the larger contractors can afford to prepay and stockpile,” DiGiovanni said, noting stockpiling also requires dedicated, covered real estate.
As well, Landscape Ontario created a campaign to issue a third party warning to customers about the salt shortage and higher prices.
“Contractors had to go back to their contracts and say they have to increase the cost because their salt cost doubled,” DiGiovanni said. “Sometimes the customer doesn’t believe it.”
The Salt Depot, an Ontario-based distributor, offers several suggestions for surviving a salt shortage. The company says education is key to reducing salt usage, alongside understanding weather patterns, equipment and the right timing. As well, contractors may consider:
- Using treated salt as it is more efficient.
- Using a mix of salt and sand.
- Eliminating pre-salting when appropriate.
- Plowing more and salting less.
Furthermore, The Salt Depot recommends using live edge plows, integrating the use of liquid and calibrating equipment to reduce the amount of salt needed.