In 1994, necessity led Johann Vos to erect a small mill on his farm, Van Oudtshoorn Stroom, situated between Ermelo and Amsterdam in Mpumalanga. What started as an operation to ensure that his cattle had enough feed for winter has led to a sizeable family enterprise operating under the brand Sakhisizwe Maize Meal and Animal Feeds. Today, the business involves his wife, Hannelie, and his daughter, Hanri. Here we share lessons from an expert on maize meal and animal feed milling.
“My first love is cattle, which means I actually farm with grass. The mill happened out of necessity. Cattle require feed for winter and this feed needs to be stored. Maize for the market also has to be stored at co-op silos, but at a price,” Johann says.
The First Years
The operation started small, with Johann, his father and a partner initially making Number One and Special maize meal.
“We moved the small amounts of maize with a trailer and fed the mill with a bucket. I was happy at that stage, I had chop [a by-product of milling] for my cattle, and wasn’t subject to market fluctuations. I didn’t realise where it was heading because I didn’t have the vision at the time.”
From left to right; daughter Hanri, wife Hannelie, Johann, and miller Johan Hattingh.
As the scale of the milling operation expanded, Johann installed a larger degerminator to produce better quality maize meal, and a bigger mill followed.
In 2000, Johann ended his partnership with the others and he and Hannelie started on their own. Johann purchased the Roff Mark 2 mill, previously owned by the partnership, and 30 head of Bovelder and Beefmaster cattle. Thirteen years passed, during which the livestock enterprise grew steadily.
His small milling operation, however, did not keep pace with the rest of the farm. By 2013, Johann realised that he had to either shut down the mill or expand it. Motivated largely by his loyalty to the staff, who had worked at the mill for 17 years, he chose to expand the operation.
That year, he upgraded to the Roff R70 mill, which has a 1 000t/ month capacity, twice Johann’s milling output. Fortunately, the R70 can be purchased in sections, which has helped with cash flow. He will add sections as his production increases.Installing the Roff R70 was costly and time-consuming, as the mill is only one component
of the total operation: silos, a weighbridge, and lifts are all required. A miller needed to be appointed and trained too.
The earthworks alone took a month as soil had to be removed, the holes filled again and the soil compacted. Nine months later, the mill was ready. The greatest challenge was Eskom, as 500kva electricity is required to power the mill. If run on a generator, powering the mill would require 5l fuel/ min, an enormous expense.
“You need 500kva power. But I was blessed. Because I create work here they were understanding and I have the power I need,” he explains.
Johann produces grade one and the more expensive super special maize meal. The Roff R70 enables high extraction rates, with super meal producing 32% to 35% chop, and grade one meal producing only 15% to 22% chop. The rest is high-quality maize meal. Johann says the amount of chop is determined by the quality of sifts. This means around 320kg chop/t maize.
Explaining the method of milling quality meal, Johann explains that wetting is crucial, and if done incorrectly, the conditioning process does not work. Johann says it is erroneously believed that wetting is only done to increase weight. “We measure moisture every two to three hours.
Getting the balance right depends on being sure of the moisture content of the maize that comes in. Adjustments are made according to these results, If not done right, you’ll have a brown product, or rot sets in, especially in summer when it’s hot. An energy exchange takes place because the meal is hot. It also has to cool down before being bagged. It’s a fine balance”.
Cordial business relations
As a miller and a farmer – and therefore a supplier and a buyer, Johann has found the drought particularly challenging. Fortunately, he has a good working relationship with the farmers who deliver maize to him.
“This year, when the prices are sky high they accommodate me. In another year, when there’s an oversupply, I’ll accommodate them with prices. I want them to still be farming next year, and they want me to continue milling. ”
Johann supplies maize meal year-round. “You can’t supply only after harvesting season because you have standing customers. You have to get a foot in the door as you are competing against major players in the market,” he explains.
This season’s drought forced Johann to divert his focus from growing his operation to getting through the crisis. Once the drought ends, however, and there is surplus maize, Johann and his producers will focus on growth once more.
The new Roff R70 has a 1 000t/month capacity, easily coping with Johann’s current output of 500t/month. Johann plans to expand his output to the full 1000t/month in future. The Roff R70 has a higher than usual extraction rate.
Aiming for full capacity
The mill is not yet run at full capacity, a situation that Johann is determined to rectify. The farm’s silos have a capacity of 3 600t, but some of his producers still deliver to co-op silos if the harvest exceeds the limit of Johann’s silos. To save costs, he uses this maize first.
“As they say, ‘Your dreams have to scare you, otherwise they are too small. When we put up the first 1 500t silo, I didn’t know if we could fill it, Two months later we were forced to put up a second one. But you shouldn’t grow beyond your means.”
Value-for-money maize meal
While he has a reputation of being more affordable than other maize meal producers, Johann strives to deliver the best quality product. He also guarantees a hygienic product, as the maize processing, even bagging, is mechanised.
Johann delivers to retailers in a 100km radius, under the Sakhisizwe brand. Demand in this area is enough to absorb all 500t of meal he produces each month.
The mill produces roughly 250t of chop/month. This is used as feed for Johann’s cattle, sheep and horses, and is stored until needed. Johann has a few clients who choose their feed mixture according to their personal requirements. Feed experts assist with mixing rations.
Conventional vs GM maize
Johann has 400ha of maize and 200ha of soya beans. He plants yellow maize for feed, and white maize for human consumption. Johann and his producers plant 80% conventional maize, as his regular clients seemingly prefer
it over that of GM maize. He also believes that his cattle prefer conventional maize.
“I’ve seen how cattle walk over GM maize stover, to eat stover from conventional maize,” he says.
He buys fertiliser through Omnia, and commends their services, which includes soil experts and fertiliser representatives. Seed and chemical representatives visit Van Oudtshoorn Stroom five to ten times per year.
The past two seasons have produced small harvests due to lack of rain. A season of ample rain, however, could mean a more bountiful harvest. Johann insists that he does not make harvest predictions. Pointing to his weighbridge, he says: “When the truck stops there, I know what the season looked like.”
One of his primary goals is to create work opportunities. He currently employs 22 labourers. Faced with the latest challenge of eradicating wild tomatoes, and still managing the effects of the drought, Johann prefers to live in the moment, and concentrates on the hurdle in front of him, and not the one that follows.
“It’s not where you begin, but where you end. You just have to begin!” he says.
Contact Johann Vos on 017 801 1920.
This article was originally published in the 11 March issue of Farmer’s Weekly.