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Oiling the cogs that fuel agriculture

“We get the agricultural market,” says Joe Mahlo, general manager commercial at Engen, but that’s only part of the reason why the oil company has had an almost 40-year relationship with Grain SA’s Nampo Harvest Day. GAVIN MYERS finds out more.

It’s common knowledge that agriculture is one of the most technologically advanced industries today. One need only look at the eye-opening array of machinery on display at Nampo each year. For Engen, keeping pace with this development is not negotiable.

“As new equipment comes into the market, more stringent specs are required. There are fewer and fewer machines that run 500-ppm diesel. Some require up to 10 ppm,” Mahlo explains.

It is for this reason that, last year, Engen invested “an enormous amount of money” to upgrade its refinery to produce the required spec of fuel ahead of legislation. “We are ready for the demand,” says Mahlo, adding that the company is in the process of migrating to supplying only 50 ppm.

While diesel is the product most supplied by Engen to the agricultural sector, its lubricants are also in high demand. Its Dieselube 700, explains Mahlo, holds the largest market share of a specific product across diesel engines.

“The standard of our lubricants is driven by the requirements of the original equipment manufacturers, as well as the research and development of our parent company, Petronas. It has research centres around the world, and one will be opened in South Africa in the next couple of years,” he notes.

“Therefore, when new machinery comes into the country, our products are already pre-certified to be used in that machinery. This also means that the customer knows that our products are good to use,” he continues.

Naturally, all these products – and more – were on display at the Engen pavilion at Nampo.

“The big attraction is the showcasing of our technology and products. There is, however, another attraction that takes a more nostalgic approach,” Mahlo smiles.

He’s referring to the Engen Tractor Museum, which is always a hit attraction with visitors to the stand.

“It’s amazing to see some of the equipment from over the years… The museum is an Engen initiative; it was started by an employee who was quite an enthusiast. He renovated the equipment and we thought supporting the initiative would be a contribution to the industry. The visitors find it very nostalgic,” he says.

For the younger crowd, a racing simulator created a bit of a buzz.

Mahlo is keen to point out, though, that the scope of Engen’s involvement in the agricultural industry is not limited to supplying the necessary products and ensuring its heritage remains for generations to come.

“When there are issues threatening the success of the industry, we participate where we can. These include the recent droughts in the Western Cape, North West and Free State provinces.

“At the moment, the best way to support the industry is through drought relief. We work with the affected customers and associations and have been providing water, sponsorship for the farmers and workers, and so on. Currently, we are providing water tankers in the Free State and are spreading this initiative across the country.

“We are a part of the community and therefore provide support. Anyone can just do a transaction … but there’s great value in actually being part of the community; in this way we can understand the needs of the industry a lot better,” Mahlo explains.

He adds that this has meant that Engen is one of the few remaining big oil companies in these regions. “Most of the main oil companies left the rural areas, but, for a long time, we have partnered with local operations to make sure that the products they supply are of the right quality. We would like to expand that model.

“Our success is, therefore, partly because of the alignment of our objectives with those of the agricultural community,” Mahlo observes.

He adds that there are not too many opportunities to meet the who’s who of the South African agricultural community.

“Agriculture is a key sector for us, and, for as long as this is the case, we will continue to support Nampo. One thing I love about Nampo is that the discussions that take place show that the industry is not shy to tackle controversial issues.

“You’ll also never find a more concentrated target market. Everyone at Nampo has an interest in some aspect of the industry. They go there to look at the latest trends and they are mainly decision-makers, so for us, as a supplier to the industry, it’s very important to be there.”

It’s clear that Engen’s long association with the local agricultural industry will continue for the foreseeable future.

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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