While the politics among the industry grower associations remains counterproductive, the SA Canegrowers’ regional staff remained focused on results which translated into emphasis on the importance of focusing on sustainability and diversifi cation particularly around the production of biogas and electricity. SA Canegrowers is also implementing a new small-scale growers seedcane scheme to make sure certified seedcane is available in Pongola – a massive plus for the region.
Overall, growers in the Pongola mill area performed well in the 2018/19 season. The average yield reached an all- time high, and the total yield was significantly higher than the previous season (see year on year table). The season did have its challenges though and kicked off with a poor mill start-up. The quality of the cane never fully recovered, and the season ended with an average RV% of 12.23%, compared to the previous year’s 13.03%. Pongola was truly blessed with good rainfall during 2018. The total rainfall of 688mm received was, for the first time in 5 years, more than the long-term average of 650mm per annum. The Bivane dam also held good levels during the drier winter months, and the Pongola growers were able to optimally irrigate. As a result, the average yield reached an all-time high of 105 tons per hectare.
The focus in Pongola was to revive the SA Canegrowers’ structures after the split in the Mill Cane Committees as a result of growers aligning themselves with the grower association of their choice. The strategy was to start fresh and to inspire a new group of growers
to work together towards a better future. The new Pongola Mill Cane Committe was established to replace the old Phumelela Mill Cane Committee. The Isivuno Sugar Cooperative was also established as a member organisation of the newly established mill cane committee. The cooperative structure creates the opportunity to apply for various types of development programs and funding. The Thumamina Mill Cane Committee in Jozini, also delivering to Pongola, is given ongoing and similar support by regional staff.
Following the successful settlement with RCL Foods Sugar & Milling against the quality losses of the previous season, in which SA Canegrowers’ regional staff played a key role in quantifying the extent of the damage, funds were allocated to build a new hot-water treatment plant (HWTP) in Pongola. The Pongola Cane Growers Association and the Chairman Mr. Kurt Stock implemented the project with great devotion. The plant will help growers comply with the Pest and Disease and comparison Variety Control Committee’s rules, and to allow them access to certified seedcane in the future.
A cane quality grower information day titled Improving Cane Quality – A Practical Approach was held. As a result of the lower price of Recoverable Value in sugarcane and the ever-increasing cost of sugarcane production, growers are under increasing pressure when trying to remain financially viable. The effective management of cane quality is one way of addressing this issue.
The 2018/19 season kicked-off with a very poor mill start-up. Bad design and engineering issues with screw conveyors resulted in frequent breakage and down-time. As a result, growers lost hugely on quality when the mill cancelled allocations to deliver. For the rest of the season the mill crushed better, but quality remained low and growers felt that the quality was negatively affected throughout the season. The final Overall Time Efficiency (OTE) was at 80.01% and the Cane to Sugar Ratio ended was lower than the previous season. The mill crush target was met, but due to an over contracted area not all the contracted cane was crushed.
Good rainfall, a full Bivane dam, and record yields were great highlights of the season, but low cane quality remains a challenge. The completed hot water treatment plant is another highlight, but an eldana threat in carry-over cane and smut remain a challenge. Our biggest challenge, however, is for growers to remain financially viable. A low RV-price and the rising costs of labour, electricity, water, and other direct input costs, has meant an ever tightening cost squeeze.