Status of South Africa’s soil moisture and impact thereafter on crops

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These past few days I shared contrasting views on the agricultural conditions between the western and eastern parts of South Africa due to variations in weather conditions. If there is one photo that clearly demonstrates the picture I was trying to paint, it’s this one – see Figure 1 below.

The chart shows soil moisture levels across South Africa. What explains the difference in soil moisture levels is that the eastern regions received a fair amount of rain, whilst the western regions were mostly dry until recently. As a result, some farmers are reportedly hard at work to get the seed on the ground in the white maize and sunflower seed areas of the North West and western Free State.

Given that it is already late for planting, specifically for maize, even if there is a fair amount of rainfall in the coming weeks, the yields are likely to be below average due to potential frost later in the season.

Overall, we will have a clearer sense of the potential size of South Africa’s 2018/19 grains and oilseeds harvest when the national Crop Estimate Committee releases its view on the area planted at the end of January 2019. What is clear at this point is that the optimistic estimate that we, at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), expressed of 12.2 million tonnes for maize, compared to 12.9 million tonnes in 2017/18, might not materialize due to large areas not having been planted, and weather conditions remaining dry.

As I indicated in the previous posts, over time, this will add inflationary pressure on consumers and animal feed industries.

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