Barely a month after Cargill and the Lebanese construction firm Rota opened a new 100,000-tonne grain terminal in Turkey, the facility faced its first big test – one of earth-shaking proportions.
On Aug. 17, a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 devastated a 300-kilometer area near Istanbul. The quake claimed more than 15,000 lives, left another 250,000 homeless and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and homes. The cost of the damage has been estimated at more than U.S.$25 billion.
Although the Cargill-Rota grain terminal was within six kilometers of the quake's epicenter in Izmit, the facility suffered only minor damage. The next day, after electricity was restored, the terminal was operating as usual.
"We're unloading a vessel right now," said Asil Sami Aji, chairman of Cargill's operations in Turkey, only a few weeks after the disaster.
Fortunately, none of the facility's employees were killed or injured in the quake, although many lost family members and several lost their homes. Cargill employees around the world have given money, food and clothing to their co-workers in Turkey, who have pitched in to help their community (see story on Page 8).
Cargill has had a presence in Turkey since 1986. In the years since, the company has established a corn wet milling facility in Istanbul-Pendik and a nut processing facility in Adapazari-Hendek. A second corn wet milling facility is under construction in Bursa-Orhangazi.
The new grain terminal is an important investment for both Cargill and Turkey, said Ernest S. Micek, chairman of Cargill, Inc., at the July 13 opening of the facility. "We see this port as one of the keys to our mutual growth," Mr. Micek said. "It will allow us to efficiently import raw materials to help fuel the growth in demand for more and better food in Turkey."
Turkey, which already has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of wheat in the world (between 160 and 200 kilograms), has a growing number of affluent urban consumers who want high-quality grain-based foods.
"Supermarket and hyper-market chains have already caught this change and are offering a very high number of choices to their customers," according to Mr. Aji.
Although the country produces more than enough wheat for domestic consumption, and since the early 1990s has been a net exporter of wheat, poor crop quality in recent years has forced Turkish millers to import wheat and blend it with the local product for milling.
"The market is heavily segmented," Mr. Aji said. "There is a built-in milling capacity of about 24 million tonnes of wheat, whereas the real demand is only half of this. Thus there is a very stiff and sometimes wild competition between flour millers. This competition is also reflected by the bakeries, which often try to play one flour miller against the other."
As an "escape gate," Mr. Aji said, the Turkish flour milling industry is attempting to increase export volumes and produce special flour for very specific products.
"Recently we noticed flour millers going directly into consumer markets by opening their own sandwich houses, pastry shops and even restaurants," he said.
Because Turkish millers need to blend wheat to make quality flour, Turkey is expected to import about 1.5 million tonnes of wheat this year, according to a recent report by the U.S. agricultural attaché in Ankara, as well as about 800,000 tonnes of corn (maize).
Cargill's new corn wet milling plant alone, when completed, will need over 300,000 tonnes of corn each year to make high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the report said. Turkey's burgeoning poultry and livestock industry also should result in increased demand for feed grains.
Cargill's rapid expansion in Turkey, combined with the country's increased grain imports, dictated the need for a modern grain elevator that could handle and store large quantities of grain.
Two years ago, Cargill began looking for a site with its own private berthing facilities that could accommodate Panamax-size grain ships and with enough land to build a storage facility that would serve the company's current and future needs. Such a site was found 70 kilometers from Istanbul in the town of Yarimca, on Turkey's Gulf of Izmit on the Marmara Sea. The site also has railway access and is situated near two major highways.
Construction began in March 1998 and was overseen by Rota, which owns the terminal. The facility includes a ship unloading area; a headhouse with a batch weighing system, two bucket elevators and a laboratory; a 100,000-tonne concrete warehouse; and two distribution sheds.
Cargill-Rota plans to eventually use the facility to export as well as import grain, a move designed to support the growth of Turkish agriculture.
"One of the special features in this project is its flexibility to handle any commodity, free-flowing or non-free-flowing," Mr. Aji said. "This capability is not available anywhere else in the Black Sea, Turkey or Middle East."
The terminal can receive free-flowing grain such as wheat, corn and soybeans as well as non-free-flowing material, like soybean meal, corn gluten feed pellets and sunflowerseed meal. The grain comes from all over the world – the United States, Canada, the European Union, South America and countries along the Black Sea.
"We hope to reach 800,000 to 1 million tonnes per year," Mr. Aji said, "without earthquakes, that is."
Ships are unloaded with two Siwertell unloaders supplied by BMH Marine AB, Bjuv, Sweden, which can discharge up to 15,000 tonnes of grain and 9,000 tonnes of soybean meal per day. Grain is transported to the warehouse by way of a 250-meter-long belt conveyor that runs along the length of the jetty.
Before it is stored, all grain first passes through a magnetic separator and a drum cleaner, which ensures clean grain in the warehouse, Mr. Aji said. The facility also is equipped with a dust collecting system.
After cleaning and weighing, the grain is automatically distributed to any of the eight storage cells in the warehouse ¾ a reinforced concrete flatstore, 102 meters long, 85 meters wide and 17.5 meters high. Each storage cell has a capacity of 12,500 tonnes, for total storage capacity of 100,000 tonnes.
A network of conveyor belts installed under the roof of the warehouse distributes incoming material into the cells. Each cell also contains a reinforced concrete tunnel that houses a chain conveyor for load-out of non-free-flowing materials.
For distribution, two steel loading sheds are located along the length of the warehouse on the outside for truck load-out and truck circulation around the warehouse. Eight weighbridges were installed under the loading sheds, one in front of each cell entrance, to weigh trucks both empty and full. Every loaded truck also is sent through a sampling station before leaving the facility.
The chain conveyors from each loading cell feed into two long conveyor belts used for train load-out or inventory control.
About 25,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete and 2,300 tonnes of reinforcing steel were used in the warehouse, as well as about 800 tonnes of structural steel for the roof and another 900 tonnes of steel to support conveyor belts.
The facility "pushes the limits of modern day technology," said Mr. Aji.
A state-of-the-art automation system allows all operations, from discharge to load-out, to be monitored and controlled from the control room as well as several other sites within the facility, including the front gate, the laboratory and various manager's offices. The network can even be monitored from Cargill's headquarters in Istanbul.
The automation system was specifically designed for grain operations by Mikrohost Industrial Control Systems, Inc., a Turkish software and engineering company, using equipment from Global (Phillips) Weighing GmbH of Germany. It is composed of eleven intelligent batching controllers for each weighing point – one for each of the two loading lines and nine discharge lines. The system also includes a programmable logic controller for the sequence control of the machinery and a computer system in the control room. The operator can monitor and control the whole plant on the visualization screen.
The load-out area also is equipped with a microwave-based, long-range identification system, which enables unmanned operation and "leaves no room for human error," Mr. Aji said.
The system allows eight different trucks with eight different commodities to be loaded at the same time.
The state-of-the-art automation greatly reduces the number of employees needed at the grain terminal.
"The advanced automation at the terminal, which has 100,000-tonne storage capacity, drastically reduces the scope for human error," Mr. Aji said.
"Although in total 43 people are employed, the mechanization has cut out much routine work, allowing employees to concentrate on the key processes." The terminal requires "only one operator in the control room to control and monitor the entire plant on the visualization screen and to start and stop operations; one operator at the gate to assign the microwave tags to incoming trucks; one operator to supervise loading; and one laboratory operator to supervise sampling and moisture analysis."
While it is not unusual for grain terminals to be automated, "this level of automation is certainly unique in the world," Mr. Aji said.
The automation not only saves on labor costs, but also increases safety, Mr. Aji said. "With automation in discharging, warehousing, loading and sampling, we are 100 per cent sure of quality of our goods and safety."
With the exception of the day of the earthquake, Cargill's new grain terminal in Turkey has been operating non-stop, and passed its first test with flying colors.
"If it resisted this (the earthquake), it will stay there forever," Mr. Aji said.