Highlights of the SASTA
2019 Congress Programme

Dr Deborah Sweby

The annual SASTA congress is a major highlight in the SASTA calendar and continues to be the congress of choice for local sugar technologists. Moreover, the event also enjoys consistent support from other African sugarcane-growing countries, and beyond. The continued success of the SASTA Congress reflects the high quality research and technical papers presented as well as the valuable networking opportunities that are on offer. 

This year’s scientific programme contains 69 paper and poster presentations covering a diverse mixture of topical subjects. In addition, delegates can look forward to an exciting joint themed session that showcases some “alternative and decidedly quirky” ideas, designed to stimulate innovation and discussion in a changing industry. 

Keynote address

SASTA is extremely honoured to host Dr Bernard Fanaroff, a leading international astronomer, who will be taking us on a journey into space with his keynote address.

Dr Fanaroff is the Strategic Advisor and Former Director of the Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA-SA) and MeerKAT radio telescopes. He has been the pioneering force behind these internationally acclaimed projects since their inception in 2003 until 2015.

Dr Fanaroff has the ability to inspire change in both the political and science worlds. He is an extraordinary individual with a wealth of knowledge and experience. His dedication to the betterment of society is evident in his scientific and activist contributions. He has overcome adversity in all aspects of his career with innovative thinking, his ability to reinvent himself to suit his goals and his tenacity to not let the sky be his limit. With our industry going through difficult times, this is exactly the kind of inspiration we need to help us look up toward the stars.

After the opening session the plenary session follows which features the traditional annual reviews of the 2018/2019 season from both an agricultural and milling perspective. This is followed by two presentations that highlight the economic benefits of various research initiatives to both the miller and grower groups. The plenary session concludes with a paper on a topical subject that examines consumer perceptions of sugar derived from genetically modified sugarcane.

Continuing with the “innovation” theme inspired by Dr Fanaroff, this year sees a very different style of session taking place after the lunchtime break. Given the pressures faced by the sugar industry and a need to diversify and think “out the box”, the afternoon session will feature a collection of “Wild and Wacky” ideas. Come along and engage with some dynamic debate with the presenters and delegates and vote for your favourite idea. Who knows where the ideas could lead and delegates will be able to say that they heard it first at SASTA Congress!

At the end of this fun and lively session all delegates are encouraged to relax and enjoy a few eats and drinks at the Meet and Greet event in the Exhibition Hall.

The Trade Exhibition continues to be a focal point at SASTA Congress. The exhibition continues to receive consistent support from suppliers to the industry, despite the challenging times, with more than 60 stands being sold for the 2019 congress. 

Refreshments, lunches and social events are held in the Exhibition Hall, enabling maximum interaction between delegates and exhibitors during the three days of Congress. As in previous years the Trade Exhibition also hosts an “open afternoon” on Wednesday 21 August from 15h00 –17h00. Exhibitors have the opportunity to invite clients to network and discuss business at their stands during this time.

Highlights from the Agriculture Session Papers

The first technical session of the agriculture programme kicks off on Wednesday morning (Day 2) with a bumper poster session. Poster authors will present an overview of their posters which will be on display in the Exhibition Hall for the duration of congress. Delegates are encouraged to meet the poster authors at the poster display area during tea and lunch breaks to chat further about their research. 

The poster session is followed by papers focussing on important parameters required for breeding of new sugarcane varieties. After the lunch break the emphasis shifts to soil health. This session includes a paper that looks at the effect of fertiliser on soil properties conducted on a 79-year old trial – the oldest such trial in the world!

The morning of the third and final day of congress commences with a session dedicated to agricultural engineering and economics. Presentations include some excellent initiatives being undertaken in the small-scale grower sector as well as some important research on methods to assess irrigation decisions. This is followed by a second session on plant breeding, with the majority of the research papers presented focused on the topic of sugarcane yield. 

The agriculture technical programme ends after lunch on Day 3 with a session dedicated to crop management. Delegates will hear about some of the research conducted in one of our neighbouring countries, Swaziland. There will be interest in hearing about how sugarcane plants propagated by tissue culture methods perform in the field. The last presentation of the congress is a commercial paper with a foreign flair. It examines the performance of a commercial biostimulant product tested in Brazil where it was shown to produce a significant increase in sugarcane yield. 

Highlights from the Factory Session Papers

The factory sessions begin on Wednesday morning with a session dedicated to poster submissions. A wide range of topics will be covered including SMRI-NIRS, sulphitation in refineries, desalination methods for concentrating vinasse and packing station optimisation through a time and motion study. The second session of Day 2 highlights work being done on biorefineries. Development and verification of a sugarcane biorefinery model using Aspen Plus® and the extension of the sugarcane biorefinery economic analysis toolbox (S-BEAT) to include other sugar mill feeds and products will be some of the highlights. Before lunch will be a presentation of work done using a pilot juice extractor.  

The final session on Day 2 focuses on boilers and energy. This remains a great topic of interest. A new approach to secondary air in boilers, the effects of bagasse moisture on boiler performance and a new model for estimation of exhaust steam conversion and consumption in an evaporator station are some of the topics that will be covered.

Thursday begins with the spotlight on rawhouse operations. A review of colourant behaviour during sugarcane processing will be presented. Some of the other topics covered in this session will be strategies to optimise continuous pan performance and the expansion of Mhlume factory. The conversation of Felixton Sugar Mill laboratory from conventional to NIRS analysis will be discussed in the second session.

The final congress session is the commercial presentations. A number of interesting products will be presented including wedge wire screens for use in a continuous centrifuge and packaging solution for speciality sugars.