One of the data points I have been looking forward to this week is the first production estimate of South Africa’s winter crops – wheat, barley, canola and oats. Since the 2021/22 season started, the Western Cape, which is the region that grows more than two-thirds of these winter crops, has received favourable rainfall.

Farmers also responded positively to the good rains through increasing area plantings. For example, the recently released data show that wheat, canola, and oats plantings are up by 2% (to 521 500 hectares), 35% (to 100 000 hectares) and 34% (to 35 150 hectares) y/y, respectively. For wheat, the area planted is roughly in line with the 11-year average, while for canola and oats, current planting is the largest on record.

Barley is the only winter crop that farmers cut its area sharply by 33% y/y to 94 730 hectares. This is partly because of lower demand following temporary bans on alcohol sales at various intervals since the pandemic and a large harvest in the previous 2020/21 season.

These winter crops have matured and are in good condition within the Western Cape and various parts of South Africa. Importantly, there is generally good soil moisture to support the crops in the coming months following higher rainfall over the past few months.

The higher winter rainfall in the Western Cape is reflected in dam levels. In the week of 30 August 2021, the Western Cape’s provincial dams averaged 82% full, compared with 72% in the corresponding period last year.

Against this backdrop, the first production estimates also mirror optimism about the 2021/22 winter crop. For example, canola and oats production could reach record levels of 195 000 tonnes (up 18% y/y) and 79 253 tonnes (up 39% y/y).

Surprisingly, the wheat production estimate is 2,09 million tonnes, down by 2% from the 2020/21 season. This is primarily underpinned by a decline in area plantings and lower yields in parts of the Free State. The Western Cape registered an uptick in production from the 2020/21 season. Still, given the overall increase in area planted and the positive reports about crop conditions we continue to receive from farmers in the Western Cape and other regions, I believe that this particular estimate could be lifted in the coming months.

In line with our expectations, the barley production estimate is down by 39% from the 2020/21 season, estimated at 356 700 tonnes.

Nevertheless, South Africa will remain a net importer of wheat even if the 2021/22 harvest would be revised up in the coming months and ends up being larger than the previous season. The import requirements for the marketing year, which starts on 01 October 2021, will become clearer once we have a reliable estimate of the current crop. Generally, under the scenario of a potential uptick in the harvest from 2020/21, imports could decline from the expected volume of 1,6 million tonnes in the current marketing year.

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