“The OMNIA Group is diversified with specialised solutions to the mining, agricultural and chemicals markets, while at the same time creating customer wealth by leveraging knowledge.
The group, which has always had roots in the fertiliser and agricultural sector, turns 60 in 2013 and prides itself first and foremost on being a marketing company; the production assets and facilities that we have within the group are primarily to assist the marketing team to tailor make products to the requirements of our customers,” said OMNIA Group MD Rod Humphris.
The group comprises Omnia Fertilizer, Protea Chemicals, Protea Mining Chemicals and BME, which is a niche, yet complementary, grouping of services, with a common philosophy.
They enhance the customer’s business activities through research, development and the sharing of knowledge that will enable the customer to increase its yields and, therefore, its profit margins.
It is a philosophy that is not based on quantitative sales, but on qualitative relationships and information gathering and dissemination of knowledge.
“The group is optimistic that, despite the current economic downturn, volume growth will continue across all product ranges on offer from OMNIA. There is vast opportunity for the group in Africa, particularly from a mining perspective, due to the coal, uranium, iron-ore and copper developments that are currently under way or in the pipeline,” said Humphris.
The OMNIA Group was assessed and upgraded by Global Credit Rating Company to a long-term rating of A- and a short-term rating of A1, based on its sound financial results as at March 31, 2012, and is the highest credit rating for OMNIA, to date.
The OMNIA Group has been listed on the JSE since 1980 with over 67-million shares currently listed.
The group continues to make good financial returns, which can be viewed at OMNIA’s website.
OMNIA has grown as a company, from a family business that began with £53 in 1953 and now has a turnover of nearly R11-billion and a market capitalisation of approximately R8.5-billion.
It is expected that the group’s performance, particularly in the mining explosives and fertiliser sectors, will continue to grow stronger as the benefits from the new nitric acid facility is realised.
Most companies operating within specialised sectors are faced with supply chain security concerns to sustain their growth.
The group, in dealing with markets throughout Africa, is faced with specific challenges in terms of local logistics and infrastructure, which require unique and innovative solutions. The group has steadily built core expertise to deal with these issues and will, in the future, continually optimise its existing solutions, as well as seek new solutions.
The OMNIA Group is acutely aware of the shortage of technical skills within the market and is meeting this challenge through the development of talent through training interventions on all levels and by fast-tracking high-potential achievers.
The representation of black employees and black women, in particular, has increased, specifically in positions traditionally occupied by men.
The cornerstone of the group’s employment equity and broad-based black economic-empowerment initiatives is skills development, and the OMNIA Group recognises that the chronic skills shortage in key areas of business expertise is a real threat to sustainability.
A key challenge, however, remains basic education, and employing functionally literate staff. Another focus area is building a maths and science skills pool, resulting in a significant portion of skills development expenditure being allocated to bursaries for students in these disciplines.
Nitric Acid Plant
“One of the highlights for the OMNIA Group in 2012 has been the commissioning of our second nitric acid plant, at Sasolburg, in March. Ammonium nitrate is the fundamental building block for both our fertiliser business, as well as for our mining explosives business.
“For 30 years, our first nitric acid plant has been able to meet the group’s supply requirements, but, over the past ten years, as our markets have grown, we have steadily become short of nitric acid. It made sense to construct our second plant, so that upon completion 60% to 70% capacity could be used.
“This capacity would not have been achievable if we had constructed the new plant at an earlier stage. The second plant is 40% larger than the first, which continues to operate at full capacity; the new plant is currently producing 1 000 t/d. Our investment in the second plant was under R1.5-billion. The project was completed on schedule and within budget and it was an OMNIA in-house-managed project.
“The new plant will also enable us to produce more of our own nitrates, allowing OMNIA to add value to raw materials and financially benefit from the value chain, which will see a return on our investment within five to six years. We also envisage future growth opportunities in the mining and agricultural sectors of Southern Africa with the associated growth in markets and product ranges,” Humphris said.
On August 13, 2012, Omnia Fertilizer announced the successful registration of the new nitric acid plant as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The OMNIA Group is one of three companies in the world to obtain this registration since the new methodology was approved by the CDM executive board in June 2011.
The new nitric acid plant is designed to exacting world-class and green standards and should generate between 250 000 and 350 000 carbon credits a year, totalling approximately 650 000 to 730 000 certified emission reduction credits a year for the two nitric acid facilities combined.
The OMNIA Group now produces more than 50% of Southern Africa’s carbon credits.
OMNIA will prevent the emission of approximately 700 000 t/y of CO2 -equivalent greenhouse gases from the new facility. These achievements result from the implementation of EnviNOx® technology, developed by ThyssenKrupp Uhde in Germany, at both nitric acid plants.
Humphris proudly continued: “Investing in state-of-the-art technology enabled OMNIA to become a leading contributor within the CDM framework and play a significant role in the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions in South Africa.”
The OMNIA Group has also introduced new information technology (IT) and business support systems to ensure operational processes and procedures are put into action as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Omnia Agricultural – a Core and Crucial Operation
The OMNIA Group’s Agricultural division comprises Omnia Fertilizer and Omnia Specialities and is the leading supplier in Southern Africa of granular, liquid and speciality
fertilisers to a range of customers that include farmers, wholesalers and cooperatives throughout Southern and East Africa, Australasia and Brazil.
Omnia Nutriology® is the division’s brand and incorporates new research and development into product offerings which assist customers with the value proposition to optimise their yield and crop quality.
Omnia Fertilizer services the South African market through regional sales offices and a comprehensive network of agents and representatives supported by qualified agronomists.
The rest of Southern Africa is supported from regional offices in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and, more recently, Mozambique, while other markets such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia and Kenya are serviced from
Omnia Specialities supplies a comprehensive range of water soluble and foliar products, trace elements and organic soil conditioners to the South African market, as well as through local offices in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, while its speciality products are also distributed to Europe, Asia and South America.
There are seven business units throughout South Africa, with a network of agents and representatives, and Omnia employs a large number of agronomists who work on farms for the benefit of the farmer.
Omnia Fertilizer South Africa MD Adriaan de Lange told Engineering News: “About 12 months ago, we launched our Feet on the Farm campaign, where our technical teams are deployed to our customers’ farms to conduct various forms of research from soil analysis and mapping, through to soil fertilisation needs, to name a few.
“We are not here to sell bags of fertiliser; we are here to share our research and technological advantage to the benefit of our customers. We see this as our most valued competitive edge, and add-on value service.
“Farming is a risky business these days owing to changing weather patterns, population growth and less farming land being available. The farmer, therefore, needs to manage his risk to compete globally, and that is where we see our role as assisting in the farmer’s risk management efforts.”
Omnia Fertilizer International Specialities and Business Development MD Jan Vermaak confirmed that Omnia’s production facility changes grades daily.
“This is because grades are customised to farmer requirements. The quality of our fertiliser offering is crucial; it is everything. We are the only manufacturer of compound fertiliser in South Africa. We have been in the fertiliser business since day one and we are in it for the long term. We have the most advanced facilities and technologies available and we invest heavily in research and development.”
Omnia places huge importance on farmer training and knowledge sharing. With the advancement of agricultural technologies and the ability to conduct testing and research, the farmer of today is incredibly informed and uses high-tech data to make farming progressively more and more a science-based operation.
“Omnia regularly holds farmers’ days, which provides training and farmer development workshops and equipment calibration services, for its customers. The Feet on the Farm concept has been widely welcomed and has enabled technical teams from Omnia to engage in a vast array of on-site research that has not only benefited the farmers but also brought new options for greater intelligent productivity to the landscape” said De Lange.
Vermaak added: “We also have an emerging farmer development programme. It has been running for about five years and has been successful, with two of the farmers being awarded the ‘Emerging Farmer of the Year’ award by Grain SA in the past.
“Farming has changed dramatically. It is no longer the plough and cow concept. There is more to plan and budget for in terms of the constructive application of research and technology, making the farm more financially efficient, resulting in a quality business. Farmers are now businessmen and businesswomen.”
Advanced Research Services
BME marketing manager Charles Hurly said: “Omnia has the latest production facilities for the future – from the supply chain through to modern production facilities and have the most modern laboratory services in South Africa where we conduct over 400 000 soil samples a year and also conduct plant sap (OmniSap®) analysis.
“Our service philosophy always runs parallel to our advanced technology offering. You have some farmers who will not plant nor develop without the Omnia agronomist’s input, which we believe is a huge feather in our cap – we are obviously doing many things right.”
De Lange added: “Omnia is the only fertiliser company producing chemically granulated products on a large scale, locally. Every granule of a chemical compound contains all the plant nutrients in the mixture, offering a more advantageous uniform distribution of all nutrients across a field.
“Our fertilisers are also ammonium nitrate-based, which offers several benefits over alternative sources of nitrogen in terms of soil acidity, for example. Omnia fertilisers also have additional micronutrients, such as magnesium, sulphurs and calcium, in a coated form, which is immediately plant available with extremely positive results.”
Vermaak added: “In the speciality product arena, we spend time on product development to ensure we develop products that the plant can easily absorb. Some of our products are moving beyond nutrition, where it is almost becoming a vitamin for the plant. Through nutrition you can increase the resistance of a plant to diseases.”
Reduce Risk – Increase Yield
When managing soil, a farmer needs in-depth knowledge of its physical and chemical properties. Omnia is able to identify soils with the best production potential via mapping the soil chemical status. The farmer is then able to optimise his or her fertiliser inputs.
OmniSap® is a diagnostic tool unique to Omnia; it measures the nutrients vital for plant growth and establishes any deficiencies. These nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and silicon. Silicon is not usually analysed during tissue analysis but it is routinely evaluated in an OmniSap® sample. As nutrient uptake is affected by environmental stress, OmniSap® assists the farmers in countering any potential yield loss.
Omnia’s Plus range is coated with K-humate and micronutrients, which ensure micronutrients are accessible to germinating seeds, leading to well-developed root systems, which help plants fight environmental stresses.
“Two factors came into play with our expansion internationally. One was to diversify risk, particularly weather and currency risks. The second was due to the huge opportunities that Africa presents.
“If you look at the macro factors driving the global fertiliser industry, it is population increase – standing at seven-billion people and increasing by one-billion people approximately every ten years – limited water resources, which need to be optimally used; and limited land resources.
“Sixty per cent of available arable land is in sub-Saharan Africa; therefore, if you look at the food requirements going forward, it has to come from Africa, so we believe massive opportunities exist in Africa for the improvement of agriculture in Africa.
“Currently, the fertiliser use in sub-Saharan Africa is 10% per hectare of what is used in Asia. From an agricultural perspective, we see Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as a growth area and we can play an important role in the development of this sector.”
To illustrate the benefits of Omnia’s Plus Products to developing farmers, a demonstration trial was conducted on Mr LJ Makoele’s farm in Dagbreek, QwaQwa. In cooperation with the client and his agronomist, a strip trial was conducted on wheat, where the regular 6:2:1 (31) planter mix was compared with a 20:7:3 (30) Plus mixture. Both mixes were applied to supply an NPK-value of 40 kg/ha, 14 kg/ha and 6 kg/ha respectively.
The results showed an average yield increase of 146 kg/ha. The net profit to the farmer, after deducting the cost of the K-humate and micronutrient coating, amounted to an additional R309/ha, based on a wheat price of R2 800/t.
The benefit of using Plus Products is once again confirmed. By applying Plus Products at planting, you not only ensure the correct placement of N, P and K, but also the application of essential micronutrients, resulting in a definite yield increase and profit benefit.
Bushveld Irrigation Area
In 2011, the wheat season was characterised by unusually cold weather in the Bushveld irrigation area. As a result of the cold, the evapotranspiration figures were much lower than usual.
This led to over irrigation when the wheat was still in an early stage, as many farmers relied on their existing irrigation programmes and experience. Farmers not using modern scheduling technology, therefore, overestimated the water use and over watered their crops. This, in turn, led to a colder soil environment and poor root development, which also impaired the uptake of certain elements.
During this season, we took OmniSap® samples as usual and clearly noticed strange results, especially in the low-lying fields and fields under sprinkler irrigation. This was also the first year that the nitrogen ratios (ammonium: nitrate) were shown on the analysis results. Therein lay the key to many of the fields’ problems.
The OmniSap® analysis of this field did not indicate serious problems, except that it seemed as if the macronutrients, especially nitrogen, were accumulating and the micronutrients looked disorganised. When the nitrogen ratio was taken into consideration, it could be deduced that something was preventing nitrate nitrogen from being converted into ammonium nitrogen, the building blocks of amino acids and proteins.
Interestingly, the wheat showed no deficiency symptoms. On the contrary, the young wheat looked especially good. When we discussed the results, it was noted that the field was very wet.
In addition, the pH of the field was relatively high, which can also contribute to the poor uptake of micronutrients. Omnia suggested that the irrigation be drastically reduced and that a foliar treatment of OMNIBOOST® and ORGANOCELL® be applied. The combination of these products assists the plants to recover after periods of stress. The combination of changing the irrigation and applying foliars meant the crop did not suffer.
Protea Chemicals supplies chemical raw materials to industry and distributes the materials on behalf of local and international manufacturers, operating throughout Southern and East Africa. Its principal customer base is wide, covering sectors such as consumer care, home care, coatings, food ingredients, animal feed supplements, oil and gas, plastics and polymers, elastomers, rubbers, textiles and cleaning products.
Protea Chemicals MD Gavin Brimacombe said: “The local manufacturing sector is currently under great pressure but, we at Protea Chemicals, believe that we have a role to play in assisting our customers through our commitment to service, by ensuring that our operations are run effectively and efficiently, thereby reducing the costs of distribution to the benefit of the customer, and that we are legally and environmentally compliant.
“We are a signatory to Responsible Care – a global initiative managed in South Africa by the Chemical and Allied Industries Association. Responsible Care is a cradle-to-grave commitment around the environmentally and socially sensitive handling of chemicals”.
“We invest heavily in training and we have engaged a specialised training consultancy from Europe for three years to work with our sales teams, to enhance our performance and our service levels. Our new integrated IT and management systems have given us greater measurement and quantification options to assess our service performance and how effectively we service our customers, which I am pleased to say, continues to improve across the board.
“We have put many new planning tools into the system on how to better engage with the customer and their requirements and how to cascade that data backwards into our stockholding. This enables us to forecast stock requirements and customer uptake more efficiently; how to optimise our load and route planning activities; and the new system installation currently under way, will enable our customers to monitor the status of their order online throughout the supply chain process”, said Brimacombe.
Water and Wastewater
The division has put considerable effort into expanding its position within the water treatment sector, which its sees as a growth sector. Five years ago, Protea Chemicals acquired Zetachem, a Durban-based manufacturer of organic coagulants and other water treatment chemicals and products.
It also recently partnered with NALCO, arguably the global leader in water treatment chemicals and technologies. NALCO has a large focus on industrial water, energy and air solutions. The joint venture with NALCO is based in Johannesburg and looks after the Southern and East African operations.
Earlier in 2012, Protea Chemicals embarked on a project to pack and distribute gaseous chlorine for the disinfection of usable potable water within the water treatment industry. Protea Chemicals believes the company can play a strategic role in assisting South Africa manage this limited resource more effectively.
The Way Forward
“We are optimistic about growth opportunities throughout the rest of Africa and we have and continue to expand our footprint on the continent. Some of the challenges we face in Africa are issues such as infrastructure development, for example, port congestion, but we are optimistic that these are merely hiccups along the way.
“We have, for example, invested heavily in our operations in Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana, which reflects our belief in the market potential for us in Africa. Presently, we have staff based in ten countries outside of South Africa. There is no doubt that our growth lies in Africa,” said Brimacombe.
BME – Your Explosives Partner
BME supplies explosives and related products and technical services and solutions to the mining, quarrying and construction industries throughout South, Southern and West Africa, but, says MD Francois Hay: “It is not just about supplying products; we offer a very strong technical side. It is not just about explosives; it is also about supplying key skills and competencies in blasting and blasting technology.
“We have a differentiated range of products including electronics software that services our customers and offers them the best possible way to do the job effectively and with safety in mind.
“We have, over the years, invested in our own electronic detonators for surface mining operations. We have our AXXIS™ electronic detonator, which is supported with software that really adds value to our customers and offers them solutions around high-wall control, vibration, fragmentation and such like.”
As a group, OMNIA has a strong environmental focus and the BME division is no exception. The division has been using used oil in its products for over 20 years. The use of used oil has been a major focus in South Africa for some time.
In its African operations, where mobile plants are on site, BME removes the used oil, adding significant value to the customer by making the entire process environment-friendly, while reducing costs, as customers do not have to transport the used oil from their site nor supply new oil for the manufacturing process. BME has been collecting its own used oil for two years and, more recently, also from other sources.
Hay commented: “Our competitive edge is to supply security due to our local manufacturing facilities. We have approximately 40% of Southern Africa’s manufacturing capacity of ammonium nitrate supply – a very strong benefit from a supply security perspective.
“In the rest of Africa, we have a number of benefits such as enormous technical expertise – we have local, regional and strategically placed technical support teams; we are cost effective as we use used oil, which offers vast savings. We are reliable suppliers with good purchasing power – all of which is supported by the excellent people who are an integral part of the BME team.”
Working at Growth
BME has at least one-third share of the surface mining market in Africa, owing to its solid and long-term experience in surface mining activities, which historically has been its forte.
Hay said: “Over the last eight to nine years, we have made major inroads into the underground mining sector, to be able to offer a complete menu to our customers. Those inroads, combined with the underground mining opportunities that are presenting themselves in Africa, have enabled us to become a major player. Our sales growth is in our bulk products, which are of high quality, high performance and technical superiority.”
The main products on offer from BME are HEF emulsion, heavy ANFO blends, MegaMite packaged explosives and AXXIS electronics detonator systems and technical software programmes.
BME has two large emulsion plants in South Africa,– a packaged explosive product plant (MegaMite), a shock-tube assembly plant, an electronic detonating plant (AXXIS), as well as an emulsifier plant and ties into the company’s research and development strategies. BME also has nine emulsion plants throughout Africa.
“Safety is a major issue for the BME division, as it is with the OMNIA Group generally. Safety is part of our business. In the chemicals and mining industries, for obvious reasons, safety is paramount – nothing is done without a safety assessment. It is not a stand-alone issue. It is part of every manager’s responsibility and the safety procedures are fully integrated into our operations. We also have a moral obligation to our people and their families and it is the only sustainable way to conduct our business,” stressed Hay.
Knowledge and Training
BME has, for 20 years, hosted the annual BME Drilling and Blasting Conference aimed at existing and prospective customers. On average, some 350 delegates attend to share knowledge on issues such as best practice, safety, technological developments, as well as topical issues of international and domestic relevance. BME showcases speakers from both local and international markets.
BME has established its own dedicated in-house training centre in Witbank in competence and technical training, as well as personal leadership development, which is MQA-recognised.
BME has a corporate social responsibility programme through educational projects at school level and through sponsorship of extra maths and science classes, as well as seminars at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand.
Protea Mining Chemicals is a supplier of an extensive range of speciality and commodity chemicals with in-house engineering and technical expertise. The company custom designs storage, handling and dosing facility plants, which has become the industry standard for this customer service model.
“We really pride ourselves on our customer service and focus and I believe that it is pertinent to our success. We have long-standing relationships with a number of our customers, some for over 20 years. Obviously, we need to remain competitive. We believe we succeed in this arena because of our customer philosophy, which is based on our service to them, our relationships with them and our competence in what we offer – that is something we are very proud of and continue to build upon,” stated Hay.
“We believe we have a competitive advantage by being in both the fertiliser and the explosives industries because we can share the production and capital costs of the plant.
“We are the largest producers of ammonium nitrate in Southern Africa and we also have the most modern plants. Therefore, we are able to offer our customers security of supply. Clearly we have spare capacity, which will enable us to grow with our customers.
“The OMNIA Group is indirectly responsible for nearly 50% of food production in Southern Africa, in that we are supplying a good portion of the nutrients and expertise to grow crops. We are also, indirectly, involved in supplying some 50% of the electricity, as without our products coal could not be mined and supplied to power stations.
“The average person in South Africa probably uses at least 15 of our products from waking to arrival at the office. For example, chemicals used in treating water, some of the breakfast foods or their preservatives, milk powders would contain raw materials, shampoo, soap, the paint on your car would have our raw materials. Chemicals, whether we like it or not, are essential to our modern way of living and are all supplied by us,” said Humphris.
“We are optimistic about OMNIA’s growth. There are only two places in the world where there is still available arable land for food production – one is Africa, the other Latin America. Africa has a fantastic opportunity to develop export food industries and with the right agricultural policies, we should be exporting food – that bodes well for the OMNIA Group, as that is where our expertise lies.
“Our research and development is focused and our customer service is dedicated. We are the professionals in what we do and offer and our track record showcases that the OMNIA experience is a profitable, knowledgeable and mutually beneficial joint venture between us and our customers and partners,” concluded Humphris.