The French Connection—Dunkirk company handles cereal imports and exports
An interview with Jean-Phillipe Sainte Maresville, Nord Cereales, Responsible Silo et Developement, France
During a recent trip to France to attend the JTIC show in Paris, the Milling And Grain editorial team stopped by Nord Céréales in Dunkirk. Here we met with Jean Phillipe Sainte Maresville to talk about the company's pivotal role in the export and import of cereals to and from France.
'Nord Céréales is an ownership cooperative formed in 1984 by small farmers,' Jean-Phillipe explained. 'We have 20 shareholders who sell to exporters who then sell to different countries.'
Nord Céréales' impressive complex of silos, docks, railheads and roadways are strategically situated in the central zone of the port of Dunkirk, which allows them access to vessels over the 14-m gauge via the Charles De Gaulle lock, with a capacity of 110,000 tonnes. They also enjoy easy road and rail access (a major motorway hub is close by, and the site enjoys major marshalling yards and railroad links that pass through the centre of the plant).
'On a good year we handle three million tonnes,' Jean-Philippe explained. Most of the grain comes from Northern France by truck, train, or barge. Nord-Céréales serves cooperatives and merchants from the Dunkirk hinterland, which is made up of three leading regions—Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Champagne, and Picardie—and accounts for forty percent of domestic grain production in France.'
According to Jean-Philippe, 40 percent of the grain arrives by truck, another 40 percent by boat and the remaining 20 percent by train. A recent trend is that train traffic is increasing while truck traffic is declining. 'The coop members have better logistics with the trains,' Jean-Phillipe explained, 'because most of our customers are in the Nord du pan Calais. There are a also lot of rivers so many use barges.'
Because Dunkirk is a major port, the many rail links give Nord- Céréales a competitive advantage over its rivals. 'Dunkirk is the main grain terminal for the Nord du Calais La Rochelle,' Jean-Phillipe explained. 'We have a lot of competition with Belgium. Starting four years ago we gained a new customer who ships to Dunkirk by train. Before they went to Rouan or Ostend, or Zebrugge in Belgium. These three are our biggest competitors. The other large French ports for grain are Montrois, LeHavre, Rouan, and Marseilles. However, in Dunkirk we have a big advantage because we can load and unload two Panamax at the same time.'
Fast unloading of cereals and biomass
'We mostly handle wheat, corn, and barley,' Jean Phillipe added. 'In the last two years we have begun importing wood pellets from the US, and corn from Ukraine. We load the wood pellets into a train, which goes to Paris to run the steam heating boilers in a hospital.'
Thanks to its eight ventilated concrete silos, the Nord-Céréales terminal boasts 222,000 tonnes of vertical storage, 110,000 tonnes of horizontal storage, and a 3,000 pont dryer.
- Road: 7 x 400T/hr.
- Waterway: 380T/hr.
- Railway: 2 x 400T/hr.
With these facilities, Nord-Céréales can take full charge of the grain as soon as it arrives. "The terminal relies on two unloaders,' Jean-Phillipe said, 'both manufactured by Vigan. The second Vigan, which is our newest, is the first of its kind in France, because France is not a country of importation. I saw the Vigan for the first time in Casablanca. With the first Vigan I could discharge a vessel of 5,000 tonnes, and with the second Vigan I could discharge a Panamax. We are the first terminal in all of France that can handle a Panamax.
Nord- Céréales has one grab crane used for unloading barges. When unloading a Panamax, it uses both the grab crane and the new Vigan, which can unload 600 tonnes an hour.
Jean Phillipe explained why he chose Vigan unloaders: 'In my mind the Vigan is the simplest machine. My job is to repair the machines and if we have a machine with a lot of small parts, it is harder to repair. The Vigan is a basic machine and so is much easier to repair. Plus Vigan is the only company that builds the machine, then completely disassembles and checks it. The machine can then be very quickly reassembled on site. Their spout technology is better and doesn't destroy or smash up the cereal. The pneumatic suction and elbow is gentler on the grain. Our latest machine must have unloaded one million tonnes. We've had it five years and I've never had to repair the spout.'
' Normally the grain or wood pellets are in the silos a maximum of 50 to 60 days. But our job is not to store cereal. Our job is to export cereal. So all the cooperatives cereals that come in and are then exported.
'We have two machines for loading: a Stolz loader and a Keyare loader. Each one can load 1,000 tonnes/hour. The trucks dump into a pit and then are elevated to the silo. The same goes for unloading the train. We have seven pits and each can handle 400 tonnes per hour. We are buying a third machine from Stolz.
Jean Phillipe explained that current plans are to build another silo on the dock's edge by 2021. The new silo will be used to store wood pellets and corn.
Improving cereal quality
Another advantage Nord-Cereales enjoys is their ability to improve cereal quality, as Jean-Phillipe explained: 'While we accept cereals from all over the world, we are responsible for the quality. If there are too many contaminants, I may refuse the wheat. I can increase the quality of the cereal by drying with our gas drying system, which has a capacity of 300 tonnes per hour. I also have a destoner to increase the weight and eliminate bad product. If the wheat comes here with a C quality, we can increase it to a B quality. Some of the silos have grain coolers attached to them. We have temperature sensors in each silo so we can monitor for infestations of aflatoxins, mycotoxins and insect infestations. We take samples from each barge, each truck and each train, which are then tested in our two laboratories for moisture, Hagberg falling number, insect infestation, etc.
PRICE Of WHEAT
Jean-Phillipe noted that the price of wheat in France is subject to large fluctuations. 'My cost is four to five Euros per tonne. This is the going price In France. In Belgium the price is 3-1/2 to four Euros. The advantage of Dunkirk is fast loading/unloading. The daily cost of day of vessel unloading is very high so high they prefer to come to France and pay less. 60,000 tonnes is the average vessel size. The Panamax is the largest ship we unload everyday, which is about 90,000 tonnes; so it takes two to three days to unload a big ship. We are quicker than Ostend or Zeebrugge and they don't have the destoner or drier.'