Technical profile: South Africa's milling challenge

by Asanda Hewana and Martina Mollenhauer
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Sliced sandwich loaves are the favorite type of bread in South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Mühlenchemie.
The milling industry in South Africa is currently facing a number of challenges. Because of the supply situation, the millers have to deal with wheat of varying quality and different origin. At the same time they are confronted with more stringent requirements in respect of both the baking performance and the standardization of flour.

To meet these demands and to enhance their own profile with regard to the competitive market, millers are increasingly resorting to flour improvers.

Wrapped, sliced sandwich loaves are the favorite type of bread in South Africa. National bread consumption is estimated at 2.8 billion loaves (700 g) per annum or approximately 62 loaves per person per annum. A large part of the market is covered by the big players Pioneer Foods, Tiger Brands, Premier Foods and RCL Food. These food companies run both industrial bakeries and mills of their own.

Three local crop regions

As the demand for wheat has increased significantly in recent years, the local crop covers just about 45% of the total consumption in South Africa. The growing conditions in South Africa vary considerably. The differences in climate, rainfall, environmental interaction and cultivation practices have a huge impact on wheat quality. There are three wheat-breeding programs: winter rainfall, summer rainfall and irrigation areas. The major producer is the Western Cape province, which has a Mediterranean climate characterized by cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. More than 80% of the rainfall is received in winter between April and September, making the Western Cape a predominantly winter rainfall area.

The summer rainfall area is mainly in the Free State province, the major dryland wheat production region of South Africa.

Examples of irrigation areas are in the Northern Cape along the Orange River, in Limpopo, Gauteng or Mpumalanga.

Total wheat production in 2014-15 was about 1.8 million tonnes, of which 64% was in the Western Cape, 24% in irrigated areas and 12% under dryland conditions in the Free State.

Good crop quality in 2015-16

In 2015-16 the wheat quality was exceptionally positive. It was possible to classify a substantial proportion as the highest grade, B1, which requires at least 12% protein and a falling number of 220s.

According to the crop quality report 2015-16 from the Southern African Grain Laboratory (SAGL), with 252 representative samples, an average of 49% was graded B1.

In the Free State province, Grade B1 amounted to 52% (48% in the previous season). In the irrigation areas 60% of the wheat was graded B1 (46% in the previous season) and in the Western Cape province 37% was classified as B1 (8% in the previous season).

The overall national wheat protein average of 12.8% is the highest since the 2004-05 season; the flour protein content averaged 11.8% this season.

The table below presents a detailed overview of the average quality of the 2015-16 crop, published by SAGL.

Although the current crop is of good quality, the quantity is by no means sufficient to meet the steadily growing demand of South African consumers for baked goods, pizza and pasta.

As a result, the milling industry relies on imports. According to the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS), the amount of wheat imported for local consumption during the 2015-16 marketing season was 1.9 million tonnes. Around 40% was provided by the Russian Federation. Other exporting countries included Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Canada and the United States.