Two major organizations in the agricultural world, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the International Grains Council (IGC), released their views about South Africa’s 2019/20 maize crop. The USDA anticipates a maize harvest of 13.3 million tonnes, while IGC sees a slightly bigger crop of 13.5 million tonnes. This far outpaces the 2018/19 season’s harvest of 11.8 million tonnes. This expected increase is supported by anticipated expansion in area plantings and also yields.

Both the USDA and IGC expect South African farmers to have planted 2.5 million hectares of maize, up 9% year-on-year. This is in line with the farmers’ “intentions to plant” data which was reported by South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee late 2019. An official update of this figure will be out on January 29, 2020. The feedback from various farming groups suggests that farmers might, indeed, have managed to plant this area.

The optimism about South Africa’s 2019/20 maize harvest is not only coming from the aforementioned organizations. Various market players are estimating a bigger harvest this season. The highest estimate I have seen in the market thus far is 14.0 million tonnes.

As hopeful as I am about this season’s prospects, the two major risks that remain are; (1) the expectations of below-normal rains between this month and March 2020 that the South African weather authorities are anticipating and (2) possible frost later in the season which could negatively affect yields.

In the absence of these risks, South Africa could indeed have a good harvest. This would mean the country will remain a net exporter of maize and food price inflation could be contained at comfortable levels in 2020 (I’ve discussed food price inflation dynamics here).

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