Onward, even if it’s uphill

Published: 8 December 2020

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Jannie de Villiers
CEO, Grain SA jannie@grainsa.co.za

By the time you are reading this, the Cape harvest should be completed and the crops in the north should be planted. Isn’t it just great that the rain has come in time?

We could not have asked for a better start to the summer season! However, over the past two seasons I have once again become intensely aware of the massive impact that the climate has – not only on the tonnes that we produce, but also on the quality. The stunning yield in the Western Cape has already pointed out quality problems here and there in late October, early November.

The last two seasons in the north have been so late that our percentage of grade 1 white maize (WM1) decreased from an average of 95% to 84%. It remains glaringly obvious – there is a negative correlation between quality and yield, but also a somewhat weaker negative correlation between extremely good and/or bad weather and quality.

Grain producers can control the cultivars they plant, the inputs they use in the soil, spray programmes and tillage practices, but they can do almost nothing about the weather. I am not sure exactly what the processors and consumers would like us to do about it. Therefore, grain producers are currently sitting between two burning fires. On the one hand our customers complain when the weather negatively affects quality and on the other hand we have to deal with suspicion about the functioning of the market. It’s not a good place to be. In spite of all this, agricultural conditions are favouring us at the moment and our sector is keeping South Africa’s ship afloat.

When I look at the year ahead, uncertainty remains at the very top. It is as if the economic uncertainty overshadows the political uncertainty. If we cannot farm sustainably, the political uncertainty is not even going to matter. One thing I have learned at Grain SA in recent years, is that we should not wait for the sympathy of the government, buyers or the general public. Regardless of how we work together or against each other, how we build image or secure food security year after year, it does not seem as if the sentiment is changing for the better. It’s a shame. To keep on doing the right things, remains Grain SA’s motto. However, it is tough to continue up a slippery slope year in and year out.

I have also noticed that the tendency remains to be less dependent on the state and its services. This applies to research, market information, financing, security and general services. The private sector finds new ways to overcome disappointments, but it is costing us money and tax rates are not decreasing.

Finally, I am dreaming of a bumper grain harvest for 2021 and that the Zondo Commission and the coming court cases will change the sentiment in the country. We do not only need restoration in the grain industry, but also a healing in our hearts after all the emotional wounds of 2020.

Have a blessed Christmas season and all the best for 2021!