Nation in Conversation, Thursday Session 1: Grain

Grain industry, with a focus on wheat, canola barley and alternative crops

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Thursday, September 5: Session 1

Grain industry, with a focus on wheat, canola barley and alternative crops

The morning session of Nation in Conversation on Thursday, 5 September, at NAMPO Cape van Bredasdorp Park in the Western Cape, attracted great interest, with a packed audience attending the session.

The host, Galileo Capital CEO, Theo Vorster, led a fascinating discussion with his panellists: Dr Dirk Strydom, Grain SA Economist; Gert Claassen, Western Cape producer; Richard Krige, National Barley Committee Chair; Cobus Bester, Western Cape producer; Willem Botes, Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Agri-sciences.

Strydom says commodities are currently in a super production cycle, indicating lower prices. He predicts that prices will move sideways for the foreseeable future.

Vorster emphasised that producers cannot rely on price increases and should rather focus on other elements.

About the current situation in the Western Cape winter grain areas, Krige says this year's rainfall has reached about 50% of the long-term average. “Twenty years ago, this rainfall would have resulted in a total catastrophe.  However, there is currently no total crop failure, thanks to new practices and technology,” Krige adds.

Claassen, who farms in the Swartland, says his neighbourhood had a good start. June saw drier weather and rainfall is currently at 60% of the long-term average. He says the northern regions are being hit harder though. “Genetics has helped a lot lately. Harvests are resistant in terms of our rainfall. Although we are somewhat concerned about the heat forecast, the Western Cape wheat farmer is at the forefront of fine management. With good rain we can foresee close to an average harvest,” says Claassen. 

Bester says that in his area of the Swartland, rainfall is below average to what they normally experience. “Climate change or the drought cycle makes it difficult and we will have to adapt quickly. We will have to look at profit margins, especially in marginal areas. This is a challenge,” says Bester. The producers agree that farmers should manage risk rather than chasing returns. 

Strydom says the local wheat industry has been in a cost squeeze over the last decade; however, there are several initiatives to assist the industry, including a review of pricing structures, regulations on new cultivars, systems to encourage seed growers to engage in technology, and a revised rating system that could soon be signed by the Minister of Agriculture.

Botes explains that unlike maize, where great yield progress has taken place over the last two decades, wheat's genome is extremely complex. Any manipulation or modification to the genome has very little influence on the eventual outcome.

Bester says that there are cultivars that have been available for more than 20 years which still perform very well in some areas. This is because the cultivars are very stable, he continues.

One of the factors that Western Cape farmers do have control over is tillage practices. Revival agriculture is widely accepted and implemented, and growers say a crop rotation system that includes legumes is essential. Krige says a livestock component is also essential to keep cash flow going during a drought. “However, we are very concerned about the coming summer with regards to available feed and groundwater resources,” he says.

Bester says Overberg Agri's data shows that the rainy season in this area has shortened by three weeks in the past decade compared to the previous 80 years’ average. Bester says the cultivars that he plants should be able to adapt to this. To achieve this, he looks at good root systems. 

Botes says researchers and breeders have focused for too long on what goes on above ground and there is now a new focus on well-developed root systems in the development of new cultivars.

Vorster asked Strydom about the value and price of agricultural land. Strydom says there is a limit at which land is no longer self-sustaining, when it becomes too expensive in terms of production potential. But land also always remains an asset that can increase in value. Strydom says that balance sheets have been looked at in the past, whereas today’s focus is on cash flow.

Krige says farmers' decision-making and ability to observe must be greatly refined, as the region is influenced by numerous factors. What works on one farm will not necessarily work on the neighbouring farm.

Botes says that sometimes the best advice is to listen to the older generation of experienced farmers in your area who have withstood many drought cycles.

Bester says one of the best ways to hedge risk is to build up humus and carbon in your soil. He also recommends that smaller farmers should not over-capitalise on expensive technology. There comes a point where the increase in yield is not enough to cover the costs. “It should make sense and it should work,” says Bester.

Researchers and industry organisations are conducting trials to investigate the viability of alternative legumes. Some of the crops include lentils, chickpeas and oats.

The overall message of this conversation is that producers cannot simply rely on higher prices; they will have to work on better profitability, cost per tonne. Strydom says that old production principles apply now more than ever: optimal yield at the highest profit. “Import tariffs can cancel out the subsidy factor, but we must use our resources efficiently,” says Strydom.

Please visit www.nationingesprek.co.za or www.nationinconversation.co.za for the full discussions.

Nasie in Gesprek: Donderdag, 5 September - Sessie 1

Graanbedryf, met ‘n fokus op koring, kanola gars en alternatiewe gewasse

Die oggendsessie van Nasie in Gesprek op Donderdag, 5 September, by NAMPO Kaap van Bredasdorp Park in die Wes-Kaap, het groot belangstelling gelok, met ‘n stampvol gehoor wat die sessie bygewoon het.

Die gasheer, Theo Vorster, uitvoerende hoof van Galileo Capital, het ‘n boeiende gesprek gelei met sy paneellede: dr. Dirk Strydom, Graan SA Ekonoom; Gert Claassen, Wes-Kaapse produsent; Richard Krige, Nasionale Garskomitee-voorsitter; Cobus Bester, Wes-Kaapse produsent; Willem Botes, Stellenbosch Universiteit fakulteit van Agri-wetenskappe.

Strydom sê kommoditeite is tans in ‘n superproduksiesiklus, met laer pryse. Hy voorspel dat pryse vir die afsienbare toekoms sywaarts gaan beweeg.

Vorster het beklemtoon dat produsente nie op prysstygings kan staatmaak nie, maar op ander elemente moet fokus. 

Oor hoe die situasie tans in die Wes-Kaapse wintergraangebiede lyk, sê Krige vanjaar se reënval is sowat 50% van die langtermyn gemiddeld. “Twintig jaar terug sou hierdie reënval ‘n totale katestrofe tot gevolg gehad het. Daar is tans nie ‘n totale misoes nie, te danke aan nuwe praktyke en tegnologie,” voeg Krige by. 

Claassen, wat in die Swartland boer, sê sy omgewing het ‘n goeie begin gehad. Droeër weer het in Junie toegeslaan en hulle staan tans op reënval van 60% van die langtermyn gemiddeld. Hy sê die noordelike dele word swaarder geraak. “Genetika het baie gehelp die laaste tyd. Oeste is weerstandig ten opsigte van die reën wat ons kry. Die Wes-Kaapse koringboer is rasse skrede aan die voorpunt van fyn bestuur. Ons is maar bekommerd oor die hitte wat voorspel word, maar met goeie reën kan ons naby aan ‘n gemiddelde oes sien,” sê Claassen.

Bester sê in sy omgewing van die Swartland gaan dit ondergemiddeld teenoor waaraan hulle gewoond is. “Die klimaatverandering of droogtesiklus maak dit moeilik. Ons sal vinnig moet aanpas. Ons sal moet kyk na winsmarges, veral in marginale gebiede. Dit is ‘n uitdaging,” voeg Bester by.

Die produsente is dit eens dat boere risiko moet bestuur, eerder as om opbrengs te jaag.

Strydom sê die plaaslike koringbedryf is die afgelope dekade in ‘n koste-knyptang, maar daar is verskeie inisiatiewe om die bedryf by te staan, onder andere ‘n hersiening van prysstrukture, regulasies oor nuwe kultivars, stelsels om saadtelers aan te moedig om in tegnologie te belê en ‘n hersienne graderingstelsel wat binnekort deur die Minister van Landbou onderteken kan word.

Botes verduidelik dat anders as mielies, waar groot opbrengsvooruitgang oor die laaste twee dekades plaasgevind het, is koring se genoom uiters kompleks. Enige manipulering of veranderinge aan die genoom het baie min invloed op die uiteindelike uitkoms.

Bester sê daar is kultivars wat meer as 20 jaar al beskikbaar is, wat in sommige gebiede steeds baie goed vaar. Botes sê dit is omdat die kultivars baie stabiel is.

Een van die faktore wat Wes-Kaapse boere wel beheer oor het is bewerkingspraktyke. Herlewingslandbou word wyd aanvaar en geïmplementeer, en die produsente sê ‘n wisselboustelsel wat ‘n peulgewas insluit is onontbeerlik. Krige sê ‘n vee-komponent is ook noodsaaklik om kontantvloei in droogtetyd aan die gang te kan hou. “Ons is egter baie bekommerd oor die komende somer met beskikbare ruvoer en grondwaterbronne,” sê hy. 

Bester sê Overberg Agri se data toon dat die reënseisoen in dié omgewing die afgelope dekade drie weke korter geword het in vergelyking met die vorige 80 jaar se gemiddeld. Bester sê die kultivars wat hy plant moet hierby kan aanpas. Daarvoor kyk hy na goeie wortelstelsels.

Botes sê navorsers en telers het vir te lank slegs gefokus op wat bo die grond aangaan en daar is nou nuwe fokus op goed-ontwikkelde wortelstelsels in die ontwikkeling van nuwe kultivars. 

Vorster het Strydom uitgevra oor die waarde en prys van landbougrond. Strydom sê daar is perk waar grond nie meer self-onderhoubaar is nie, wanneer dit ten opsigte van produksiepotensiaal te duur word. Maar grond bly ook altyd ‘n bate wat in waarde kan toeneem. Strydom sê daar is in die verlede gekyk na balansstate, waar die fokus deesdae op kontantvloei is.

Krige sê boere se besluitneming en waarnemingsvermoë sal baie verfyn moet word, omdat die streek soveel verskillende faktore na vore bring. Wat op een boer se plaas werk, gaan nie noodwendig by sy buurman werk nie. 

Botes sê somtyds is die beste raad om te luister na die ou, ervare boere in jou omgewing wat al baie droogtesiklusse weerstaan het.

Bester sê een van die beste maniere om risiko te verskans is om humus en koolstof in jou grond op te bou. Hy beveel ook aan dat kleiner boere nie moet oorkapitaliseer op duur tegnologie nie. Daar kom ‘n punt waar die opbrengsverhoging nie genoeg is om die koste te dek nie. “Dit moet sin maak en dit moet werk,” sê Bester. 

Navorsers en bedryfsorganisasies is besig met proewe om alternatiewe peulgewasse se lewensvatbaarheid te ondersoek. Van die gewasse sluit, onder andere, lensies, kekerertjies en hawer in. 

Die oorhoofse boodskap van die gesprek is dat produsente nie kan staatmaak op hoër pryse nie; hulle sal moet werk aan beter winsgewendheid, koste per ton. Strydom sê die ou produksiebeginsels geld meer as ooit: optimale opbrengs teen die hoogste wins. “Invoertariewe kan die subsidie-faktor uitkanselleer, maar ons moet ons hulpbronne doeltreffend gebruik,” sê Strydom.

Besoek gerus www.nasieingesprek.co.za of www.nationinconversation.co.za vir die volledige gesprekke.

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