A severe extended drought pushed down sugar cane yields, forcing Illovo to divert last season’s Umzimkulu crop to its Sezela mill in order to crush at economically viable levels. The South African milling season began on 1 April. Umzimkulu was scheduled to start up on 24 April.
Umzimkulu canegrowers chairperson, Scot Scott, said, “Last year was difficult logistically. Travelling time to Sezela is longer so transport turnaround time was longer and growers lost recoverable value. “However, the guys are happy that the mill has reopened. Umzimkulu Mill is known for its high quality brown sugar so Illovo will be happy to have the mill operating again.”
Although growers had a dry January and February, the South Coast and Umzimkulu received more than 400mm rain in March. “The crop estimate for this season is 900 000t, with 820 000t crushed last year,” Scott said. Dave Howells, managing director of Illovo South Africa, said the cane crop had made a significant recovery.
“We expect sugar production to increase. The average cane yield for Umzimkulu in the 2011/2012 season was 52t/ha. This has increased by a projected 20% to 63t/ ha in the current season (2012/13).” Howells said most of Umzimkulu mill’s 251 staff complement was relocated to other operations within the Illovo group, while the mill was closed, with only critical staff remaining at the mill. “There was neither a single retrenchment nor job loss,” Howells said.
The dry start to the year saw some growers cancel replanting. “We are gearing up for replanting from September onward,” said Scott. Plans to rebuild cane supply across all four Illovo milling regions could increase land under cane by 9 000ha and provide additional throughput of 45 000t. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has committed to directing R169 million through Illovo for cane development.
This includes a R109 million three-year cane redevelopment programme for small-scale cane growing in the Umzimkulu and Sezela regions; R30 million to support the department’s redistribution and restitution process; and R30 million for medium scale farmers who have purchased 9 600ha of Illovo’s farms.