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Wandile Sihlobo: SA maize supplies suggest good news for food prices

Jul 21 2019 08:21
Wandile Sihlobo

Earlier in July, I spoke to a few maize farmers from the North West – a province that produces about 15% of South Africa’s maize. They have recently started harvesting, and are rather disappointed with the yields thus far.

Now, let me provide a brief context. In the 2017/18 production season, North West average maize yields were at 4.4 tonnes per hectare, and the five-year average yield, up to 2017/18, is 3.7 tonnes per hectare (swayed down by the yield levels of the drought years – 2015-2016).  The expectations for the current 2018/19 maize production season are that yields could average 3.4 tonnes per hectare.

But the farmers I spoke to on 08 July say they are receiving about 2.2 tonnes per hectare. Now, this is mainly the regions around Lichtenburg town in the North West.

I am yet to chat with farmers in other regions. If this would be the case across the province, then the overall maize expectations of 10.9 million tonnes would have to be lowered somewhat.

This would largely be on white maize which is predominantly produced in the North West province.

Looking beyond North West, farmers are hard at work across the country. The data point that helps us get a sense of the area harvested thus far is SAGIS’s producer deliveries data, which is updated every Wednesday.

About 4.1 million tonnes of maize had already been delivered to commercial silos in the week of 28 June 2019. This means that roughly 38% of 2018/19 maize crop has already been harvested. (If I add early deliveries for March and April 2019, which equals to 266 943 tonnes to the 4.1 million tons mentioned above, and subtracted 550 000 tons of on-farm usage from the maize estimate of 10.933 million tons, about 42% of South Africa’s maize crop has been harvested).

The progress has, however, largely been in the eastern parts of the country, which planted on time relative to the western parts of the country; which saw a month-long delay.

About 69% of the maize delivered thus far is yellow, which is predominantly planted in the eastern regions, with 31% being white maize.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will be monitoring the harvest activity and yields with great interest, and I am sure the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) members are doing the same. We expect the CEC to release an update of its maize production estimates on 25 July 2019. If the poor yields story in the North West is widely spread, its implications will be reflected in this data.

For South African consumers, all this is important information to monitor as it has implications on food price inflation. But there is nothing to worry about for now – as things look, we will likely have sufficient maize supplies in South Africa throughout the 2019/20 marketing year, which ends on April 2020.

Wandile Sihlobo is a South African Agricultural Economist.

maize  |  agribusiness  |  agriculture
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