Mexican Corn Molds After Ships Take Icy Route to S. Africa

January 26, 2017 08:55 PM

Some shipments of white corn from Mexico have arrived in South African ports covered in mold after carriers opted for a longer route around the tip of South America instead of through the Panama Canal.

Vessels carrying corn reached the South African port of Durban earlier this marketing season with cargo showing mold damage, said Hampie Lourens, the managing director of South African Bulk Terminals, which is the only grain terminal in sub-Saharan Africa capable of handling fully laden Panamax vessels.

South Africa has been forced to import record amounts of the country’s staple white corn after suffering its worst drought since records began in 1904. Complaints about the quality of Mexican imports were raised by an advisory committee to the JSE Ltd., which operates the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Chris Sturgess, commodities derivatives director at the bourse, said in November.

The affected ships used a 45-day route around Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost point of South America, and near Antarctica, rather than the 25- to 30-day trip via the Panama Canal, Lourens said in an interview on Tuesday. It appears that exposure to cold temperatures after having been loaded in Mexico’s warm, humid climate resulted in moisture contamination in some of the grain, he said.

All the vessels were eventually cleared by South African health officials and their cargoes discharged after the contaminated corn at the surface of the shipments was scraped off. However, the mold led to delays with one cargo, at a terminal run by the South African government, which was held up for two months, Lourens said.

“A mold developed a crust on the top” of some of the corn cargoes, Lindsay Ralphs, the chief executive officer of Bidvest Group Ltd., which owns South African Bulk Terminals, said in an interview on Tuesday.

It’s unclear how much corn was affected in total, both Ralphs and Lourens said.

Mexico accounted for 91 percent of the 641,235 tons of white corn imported by South Africa in the season that began May 1, data from the South African Grain Information Service show. Imports for the season will probably reach 850,000 to 900,000 tons, said Wandile Sihlobo, head of economic and agribusiness intelligence at the Agricultural Business Chamber in Pretoria, the capital.

The price of white corn has risen 56 percent on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg over the last two years to 3,088 rand ($232.82) a metric ton.

Back to news



Spell Check

Michael Mooney
Champaign, IL
1/26/2017 05:20 PM

  What was the moisture content of the corn when it left port in Mexico??

Auburn, IN
1/27/2017 07:42 AM

  Just like some the of fruit at walmart if you look closely

Caledonia, MN
1/27/2017 08:14 AM

  If the corn was at the proper moisture / below 15% when loaded, in 45 days going from say 70 degree corn, & spending several day in cold temps, South Afticia is not a cold Country, would not do any thing to send the corn out of condition. It was wet corn when loaded. Now if it was the reverse, freezing cold corn, going to 90+degree temps air temps, you would eventually get a problem, but it would take much longer than 45 days. Especially with that volume of corn. The corn was loaded with wet corn mixed in. If this story was true, the correct moisture when loaded, ships would need to have airation system for the corn.


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer