After weeks of dryness which caused delays in crop planting, most regions of South Africa have finally received a reprieve as rains continue over summer rainfall areas of the country.

The rains have enabled farmers to get on with planting activities. As of November 18, Mpumalanga had planted roughly 80% of its intended maize hectares for the 2019/20 production season. In the same day, KwaZulu-Natal had planted about 40%, and eastern Free State approximately 35% of the area. The Eastern Cape is still at initial stages of planting.

While this is encouraging, it is way off the optimal maize planting window which closed on 15 November 2019. The consequence of which is potential frost later in the season. In such an event, maize yields would be negatively affected.

The western regions of South Africa, specifically North West and western Free State, still have sufficient time to plant maize as the optimal window runs from 15 November to 15 December. These areas too have received a bit of moisture which enabled some farmers to begin planting, albeit still at preliminary stages.

Now, all this doesn’t take away the concerns about possible mid-summer drought or below-normal rainfall from the end of January 2020 as recently highlighted by the South African Weather Service.[1] One of the things that farmers can potentially do is to ensure lower planting density in maize so that soil moisture can be conserved somewhat. Also, this helps in saving whatever little seed is left for the next season.

Also, important to note is that South Africa’s 2019/20 maize plantings might not amount to 2.5 million hectares (up 10% y/y) that farmers initially intended to plant. The reasons for this view include the erratic weather conditions, but also financial constraints.

We are hearing a lot of discussions amongst commercial and developing farmers about difficulties of accessing capital for this season. This is a result of both the drought-induced poor harvests from previous seasons which weighed on farmers finances and also levels of risk that financial institutions are seeing on the back of unpredictable weather for the months ahead.

Overall this is a tough time for South African agriculture. Over the next three months, the weather will be an important factor to monitor. Also, January 29, 2020, is a crucial date to inform us about the size of hectares that farmers would have actually planted, not only for maize but all summer crops.

[1] South African Weather Service “Seasonal Climate Watch” November 4, 2019.


Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

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