The dry and warm weather conditions experienced in the Western Cape since the end of August 2019 have taken a tall on winter crops and the impact is evident at a national level given the significance of the province.

Figures released earlier in the afternoon containing the latest projections from South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) show that the country’s 2019/20 wheat, barley and canola production forecasts were lowered by 6%, 3% and 14% from last month to 1.81 million tonnes, 389 260 tonnes and 88 800 tonnes, respectively. Aside from the Western Cape, most other winter crop-producing provinces harvest expectations are somewhat stable compared to levels seen in August.

In the case of wheat and barley, the current harvest expectations are still well above the five-year average levels, while canola is down notably in part because of a reduction in area planted. The weather conditions have not improved in the province and there is now a greater risk of further crop damage in areas around the Swartland region where wheat is currently pollination – a growth stage that requires moisture. Other major winter crop-producing provinces such as Northern Cape, Free State and Limpopo, amongst others, are mainly under irrigation and can, therefore, withstand harsh conditions as dams are at levels over 50% on average as of 23 September 2019.

Be that as it may, the Western Cape is major producer, accounting for 61% of area plantings in winter wheat and nearly all canola, which means that the persistence of unfavourable weather conditions there could have a national impact as it is currently the case.

We — the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA (Agbiz) — see a risk that the CEC might revise down further its winter crop production estimates when the next update comes out on 24 October 2019 given that weather conditions are still harsh in the province. The weather forecast between 26 September and 12 October show prospects of light showers in the coastal areas of the province, which might not make a meaningful improvement on soil moisture.

In commodities such as wheat, the yield losses might not be compensated by an increase in prices for farmers. South Africa is a net importer of wheat – importing, on average, about 1.6-million tonnes per annum – and prices generally track the import parity price level. Therefore, while lower output levels would be negative for farmers, the effects on domestic consumer food price inflation may be relatively contained.

Written for and first published by Agbiz on 26 September 2019

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