BUSINESS DAY: Silos ready for record maize harvest

As farmers in SA get down to harvesting a record maize crop, operators of grain storage facilities say there is enough space to accommodate the bumper haul.

President of the Grain Handling Organisation Annatjie Loio said there was adequate capacity for the local crop, most of which would be stored in silos. Additional silos were being built while some of the crop had already been booked for exports.

According to the Crop Estimates Committee, the maize crop output was expected to be 101% more than in 2016. The expected commercial maize crop has been set at 15.631-million tonnes.

Earlier in 2017, Brazilian farmers had to resort to storage bags as a quick-fix solution to stockpile their bumper crops of soybeans and maize, while in 2016, US farmers also faced the prospect of running out of storage supplies for maize, soybeans, and wheat.

Afgri Grain Management operations manager Jan De Sousa said Afgri operated silos across SA’s main maize-planting regions. The company frequently received its own crop estimates from farmers within the regions, which helped with effective storage management processes.

“In the event that additional storage is needed, we look at instructions for dispatching the grain,” he said.

Afgri’s silos are located in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and parts of Limpopo. Farmers deliver their crop to the silos shortly after harvest to avoid risks such as fire, theft and contamination.

On arrival at the storage facilities, the crops are graded, weighed and put it into the silos. Storage bins keep between 22,000 tonnes and 160,000 tonnes of the crop, which can be stored for up to seven years. Clients — who may be farmers, traders and cooperatives — have the option of daily storage, short-term or longer-term storage, with equivalent payment variations.

The head of economic and agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber, Wandile Sihlobo, said while there were facilities to accommodate the surplus crop, demand for white maize outside SA’s borders was weak and could lead to prices remaining at low levels.

He said that SA exported about 80% of its white maize to neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, which were also expecting a bumper maize harvest.

“White maize prices are down because we can’t find export markets.”

On Thursday, the spot price of white maize was R1,728 a tonne form R3,704 a tonne in January, while the spot price for yellow maize was R1,865 a tonne from R3,365 a tonne.

Absa agricultural economist Conce Moraba said that in addition to the expected adequate storage capacity, the transportation of grain to export markets by road and rail was also expected to go smoothly, through the Durban and the East London Port Terminals.