Written for and first published on Business Day.

The weather is again top-of-mind in SA’s agriculture. Warmer or drier weather is needed to complete the harvests of the summer crop and citrus, as well as transporting of product.

Simultaneously, we need rains for the winter crops, which are now in the middle of their planting season, and for various horticulture products, mainly in the Western Cape.

Ordinarily, the Western Cape would by this time have received moderate rainfall, which helps with winter crop planting and germination in early planted areas and improves growing conditions in the fields. But this year we have had a relatively dry May. It was only in the third week of June that the province received much-needed rais for winter crops and various fruits.

While this may still not be enough, it will improve soil moisture following the dryness experienced in May. This should enable farmers to complete their winter crop planting, mainly wheat, canola, barley and oats, while also improving growing conditions in the fruit fields and vineyards. The 2022/2023 winter crop season is more important than other seasons as the Russia-Ukraine war has negatively affected global wheat supplies, forcing some countries to look for ways to improve domestic production.

SA is also counting on prospects of improved domestic wheat plantings, which will depend partially on the weather as well as rising input costs. Fortunately, farmers have responded positively and the Crop Estimates Committee’s “Intentions to Plant” report noted that farmers aim to increase the total winter crop plantings by 6% from the 2020/2021 season. Wheat plantings could lift by 3% to 538,350ha, which is well above the five-year average area of 513,650ha.

While the Western Cape is an important area to monitor for wheat, accounting for two-thirds of SA’s plantings, we will probably see a jump in plantings in the Free State this year. Present estimates are that the Free State could account for 18% of SA’s wheat planting. While the province did not get as much rain as the Western Cape in the past week, it could have showers in the last week of the month. Notably, the heavy rains of the 2021/22 summer season, which caused damage in some crop fields at the time, did help improve soil moisture, which will now be beneficial to the planting season of winter wheat.

An important date to keep in mind is July 27, the day the Crop Estimates Committee will release the preliminary estimate for area plantings of winter crops for the 2022/2023 season. August will also see the release of the Bureau for Food & Agricultural Policy’s 2022 Baseline report. This particular report will provide a crop forecast and detailed long-term view for all winter and summer crops, various horticulture products, and livestock.

These will help us determine how SA’s wheat supplies will fare in the 2022/2023 production season, as we believe global wheat supplies will remain constrained for some time. For example, earlier this month the US agriculture department estimated 2022/2023 global wheat production at 773-million tonnes, down 1% year on year. Subsequently, the 2022/2023 global wheat stocks are down 4%, estimated at 266-million tonnes. These estimates are supportive of prices globally and in the domestic market. Prices are thus likely to stay at their current higher levels for some time.

I had feared the higher input costs would discourage plantings, but the intentions to plant data suggest farmers could push through and take advantage of the higher commodity prices. The past season’s large harvest and relatively higher prices also helped improve farmers’ financial conditions, and their ability to continue to plant.

Still, SA will remain a net importer of wheat, to the tune of some 1.4-million tonnes, roughly the same as the current season.

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

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