PMB ‘logical location’

2013-08-09 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG was the logical location for a state-of-the-art company that guarantees growth. The city is on the N3, is close to the port of Durban and is “smack bang in the middle of a lot of agriculture”, says its sales and marketing manager, Derick Jones.

Incotec, a Dutch seed technology company that opened in Pietermaritzburg’s Mkondeni industrial area earlier this year, chose Pietermaritzburg in 2008 as the site from which to launch its services into sub-Saharan Africa, when it opened a laboratory here. Since then, it has been ensuring growth for companies like Sappi, Pioneer, Hygrotech and Monsanto through the services it offers.

Put simply, Incotec optimises seed performance. Through a range of technologies — DNA analysis, quality inspection, seed upgrading, priming and disinfection, and seed coating, pelleting and encrusting — Incotec is able to ensure, with a high rate of certainty, that seeds will germinate.

Its 3 677 square-metre premises are wholly owned and it employs 11 highly qualified people at the Pietermaritzburg facility. Previously, most of this work was done outside of South Africa, mostly in Europe, says Jones.

“We have people here who hold Masters and Doctorate qualifications and they are all local people.” says Dr Tertia Erasmus, the general manager of Incotec South Africa.

Incotec has invested R16 million in the local enterprise and expects to invest another R10 million over five years.

Incotec “makes every seed count”, says Erasmus. A germination test begins the seed optimisation process and a minimum germination rate of 85% must be realised if the seeds are to proceed for pelletting. Pelletting is a process that coats individual seeds with organic- and mineral-based compounds that act as a carrier for actives and additives that protect them against diseases, and stimulates growth.

The process also makes seeds easier to sow. With tobacco seeds, for instance, there are around 12 000 seeds per gram, says Jones. Without pelleting, there is always a huge amount of wastage as seeds this small usually have to be sown using a watering can or similar method. At Incotec, they guarantee a single one of these miniscule seeds per pellet, is of a size that is easy to sow mechanically.

Incotec also conducts GMO (genetically modified organism) testing and is one of only two laboratories in South Africa approved by the Department of Agriculture to do this, says Fernando Pienaar, the facility’s laboratory manager. “We are completely independent and also do testing on foodstuffs for [the presence of] GMO for retail groups,” said Jones.

Incotec employs a range of specialised technologies, including two gene sequencing machines and a purpose-built priming facility. The priming facility provides controlled conditions to trigger the germination of seeds and then halts this at the right stage. This ensures even germination and increased vigour when the seeds are sown, says Jones.

“At Incotec we have diversity both on the molecular and analytical side, as well as on the agricultural side, where we can help farmers and large agricultural groups to make sure that their seed is actually of a quality they expect.”

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