SOUTH AFRICA – The South African maize harvest season has officially begun, bringing hope for achieving the 2024/24 target of 13.3 million tonnes target, according to Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA.

Despite the impact of a mid-summer drought, Sihlobo notes that early indications are promising, with 1.2 million tonnes delivered to commercial silos in the first two weeks of May.The harvest season, which started in early May, is expected to gain momentum through to July in various regions.

The Crop Estimates Committee has set an optimistic outlook for the year with a forecast of 13.3 million tonnes of maize.

However, this projection is a 19% decrease from the previous season’s harvest of 16.4 million tonnes, underscoring the significant impact of the drought.

According to Sihlobo, the initial delivery of 1.2 million tonnes signals a strong start, though figures might have dipped in the third week of May due to many farmers attending the Nampo agricultural exhibition in Bothaville, one of the largest in the southern hemisphere.

He adds that the mid-summer drought has caused considerable crop losses, and while the expected harvest is sufficient to meet South Africa’s annual maize consumption of approximately 12 million tonnes, it leaves a smaller surplus for export.

As a result, the Southern African region’s demand, particularly for white maize, coupled with potentially tight supplies later in the year, is expected to drive South African maize prices higher.

Beyond maize, South Africa’s 2023/24 summer grains and oilseed harvest, including crops like sunflower seed, soybeans, sorghum, groundnuts, and dry beans, is estimated at 16.0 million tonnes.

This represents a 20% decline from the previous season, largely due to poor yields rather than a reduction in the area planted.

Better crop outlook ahead

Meanwhile, weather forecasts suggest a return of La Niña conditions in the 2024/25 summer crop production season, which could bring much-needed rainfall and bolster agricultural output in South Africa and the broader Southern African region.

The farming community is, therefore, working diligently to complete the harvest in regions not severely affected by the drought, with favourable weather conditions aiding their efforts.

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