It must be noted that SA Canegrowers makes an immeasurable contribution to the economic sustainability of all growers in the Umfolozi cane supply area, from the cane-roots level of advising individual growers on their economic viability, through to the economic & technical support of small-scale & large-scale grower representative structures, right up to ensuring that growers receive a fair & equitable return for their contributions to the sugarcane value chain.
Growers in the Umfolozi mill area performed well during the season. The quality of the cane deliveries increased once more following the major drought of the 2016/17 season, and total yields were better than the initial grower estimate. The Umfolozi Sugar Mill crushed better than the previous season but even though the Overall Time Efficiency (OTE) was better, the Cane to Sugar Ratio was worse. The mill’s performance and their ability to extract the value that growers deliver remains a concern. The Umfolozi mill area received good rainfall during 2018. The total rainfall for the year was 893mm, which is 70mm better than the long-term mean of 823mm. It was also the second best rainfall year since 2013. Good rainfall meant good yields and savings on the cost of irrigation. Growers in the rainfed and supplementary irrigated areas have seen the benefits of trashing rather than burning their cane prior to harvest as a method of improving the organic matter content in soils and to help retain valuable moisture. In 2018 a new Agri Business Advisor was appointed in the Umfolozi and Pongola mill areas. As a new staff member his focus was to build relationships in the rural areas, to analyse the needs of growers and to provide agronomic support to small-scale growers and their representative structures. Ongoing support was given to energise the local structures in the Umfolozi mill area. The new Impumelelo Mill Cane Committee is now properly set up as an effective communication structure. Further support included help with the interpretation of remittance advice statements, grower days held to emphasize the importance of cane quality, and business plans were developed to potentially gain access to funding. As a consequence of the economic pressure of the extreme drought of the previous seasons, some sugarcane farms came up for sale, and new business plans were developed for commercial and land reform growers wanting to acquire sugarcane land in the market.
The inaugural Monzi Agri Expo took place on 13 and 14 April 2018 at the Monzi Club between Mtubatuba and St. Lucia. The expo provided a technical speakers’ program, agricultural related companies to exhibit their vast range of products, rounds of golf, and an evening with Butch James and Craig McIntosh. SA Canegrowers attended the expo and had a stall on both days, along with 57 other exhibitors ranging from tractor and implement dealers through to non-agriculture activities and home produce stalls.
The Umfolozi Sugar Mill crushed 1.23m tons of cane during the 2018/19 season. Even though the mill had its best season in several years in terms of total crush, the overall time efficiency was pegged at 78.35% which is a cause for concern. A “clean cane campaign” is now managed by the Mill Group Board liaison officer, to ensure growers deliver cane within quality thresholds. The cane to sugar ratio was worse compared with the previous season at 8.98%, even though the cane quality delivered to the mill was better.
Improved sugarcane yields and the improved quality of the crop was a definite highlight for growers in the 2018/19 season. Mill performance, however, remains a challenge. Finding a sustainable solution to the back flooding of farms on the lower Umfolozi flats arising from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s authorities attempts to divert the Umfolozi River into St Lucia lake estuary also remains a big challenge.