•  A month after it imposed tariffs on shipments from the United States, China saw a significant reduction in grain imports, according to figures published by China’s General Administration of Customs.

  • This summer’s drought has led to a significant drop of total E.U. cereal production, estimated at 8% below the last five-year average. This is just one of the findings of the latest short-term outlook report, published on Oct. 3  by the European Commission.

  • The decision to pursue improved profitability via higher-value grain sales or via increased yields and higher volumes is a constant concern facing the Australian grain industry as it looks to achieve efficiencies and preserve the competitiveness of Australian grain in global markets, according to a new report from Rabobank. 

  • It is year-end and therefore an appropriate time to reflect on the African continent’s agricultural performance, particularly grains and oilseeds which are staple foods, and key inputs in the animal feed sector. The 2018/19 production season has been confronted by unfavourable weather conditions in the sub-Saharan region which has negatively affected the planting activity and growing conditions of crops and, by extension, the continent expected harvest. The International Grains Council (IGC) forecasts Africa’s 2018/19 grains production at 154 million tonnes, down by a percentage point from the previous season (Figure 1). In this context, grains include maize, barley, wheat, sorghum and oats, while oilseeds refer to soybeans. The continent’s 2018/19 soybean production is estimated at 2.7 million tonnes, unchanged from the previous season. Although the import status differs across countries, the African continent will remain a net-importer of major grains and oilseeds such as wheat, maize, soybeans and rice in 2018/19.

     Africa’s 2018/19 wheat imports are estimated at 49 million tonnes, down by 6% from the previous season owing to anticipation for a slight uptick in production in countries such as Algeria, Morocco and South Africa, albeit the continent’s overall grain production expected to decline. Although volumes differ from the previous season, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan will remain Africa’s leading wheat importers in the 2018/19 season, collectively accounting for 74% of the continent’s wheat imports, according to data from the IGC. Africa is an important player in the global wheat market as it accounts for nearly a third of imports in 2018/19.

    The African continent’s 2018/19 maize imports are estimated at 22 million tonnes, which is slightly above the previous season’s harvest. The North African countries, namely, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are the key importers, accounting for 82% of the expected imports. Within the sub-Saharan region, the leading maize importers in 2018/19 are Kenya and Zimbabwe. In terms of soybeans, Africa’s soybean imports could amount to 4.6 million tonnes in the 2018/19 season, up by 12% year-on-year. About 78% could be imported by Egypt and the rest spread across the continent. In addition, Africa’s 2018/19 rice imports could amount to 19 million tonnes, up by 12% from the previous season. Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana and Mozambique will remain the key importers.

    Domestic focus – maize trade; rice market; crop conditions and weather prospects
    What role can South Africa play in the continent’s maize market.
    While some countries on the continent will have tight maize supplies, South Africa is one of the few countries which could remain a net exporter in the 2018/19 marketing year which ends in April 2019. South Africa has thus far exported 1.6 million tonnes of maize, which equates to 73% of the seasonal export forecast of 2.2 million tonnes . But there have not been any exports to Africa’s leading maize importers (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya and Zimbabwe) in the 2018/19 marketing year. A large share of maize was exported to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Italy and BNLS (Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland) countries. If there are any exports in the coming months, it will probably be to Zimbabwe. In markets such as Kenya, South Africa’s presence could be limited partly due to restrictions on the importation of genetically modified maize and competition from Mexico, Uganda and Ukraine. More than 80% of South Africa’s maize production is now genetically modified. Also, we do not foresee maize exports to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia as these countries typically import maize from Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Romania and the United States, which all currently have sufficient supplies for exports.

    SA rice market
    South Africa accounts for 6% of the expected 19 million tonnes of rice imports into Africa in the 2018/19 season. This is about 1.1 million tonnes, up by 10% from the previous season driven by an uptick in consumption . In the first three quarters of this year, about 704 718 tonnes had already reached the South African shores. About 92% of this originated from Thailand and India, and the rest from Italy, Pakistan, Vietnam and Brazil, amongst other suppliers.

    Worth noting is that South Africa does not have a conducive climate for rice production and therefore the country imports all of its rice consumption. The imported rice typically includes; paddy, brown, semi-milled, and broken rice. Similar to what is transpiring this year, in 2017, about 77% of rice was imported from Thailand, with 17% from India and the rest form the United States, China, Vietnam, Pakistan and Uruguay, amongst others. On average, about 101 854 tonnes or 10% of the imported rice every year is re-exported to the neighbouring countries, namely Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia and Zambia

    From a supply perspective, the global rice market is in good shape. The 2018/19 global rice production could reach a record 491 million tonnes, marginally up from the previous season, according to data from IGC. The key contributing countries to the expected increase are India, Vietnam, Thailand, United States, China, Bangladesh and the Philippines. These are same countries that supply to South Africa. The benefit of an uptick in global rice production is clear on prices which have softened in the recent months compared to the beginning of the year across all the aforementioned countries. This is all beneficial to rice importing countries such as South Africa.

    Current crop conditions
     Although this month started with an optimistic message from the South African Weather Service indicating a possibility of above-normal rainfall in the summer crop growing areas of the country between December 2018 and February 2019, most parts of the country are still dry. The expected rainfall last week did not materialise in most regions, thus planting activity has not progressed in the central and western parts of the country. It is only a few areas of the eastern Free State and Mpumalanga that received very light showers, with the highest being 11 millimetres in the Frankfort area.
    Therefore, planting has thus far largely advanced only in the eastern parts of South Africa which received higher rainfall at the beginning of the season. But these areas are not in good condition as the recent heat wave and drier weather conditions started negatively affecting newly planted crops. In terms of crop distribution, these are areas that predominantly produce yellow maize and soybeans. Meanwhile, the western regions of the country which largely produce white maize and sunflower seed have not seen progress in planting due to persistent drier weather conditions. The only crop that has been planted in these areas so far is cotton as it copes somewhat better with drier conditions compared maize, sunflower seeds and other crops.

    Nonetheless, the precipitation outlook for this month shows rainfall between 20 and 70 millimetres in the summer crop growing areas of South Africa.If this materialises, then the aforementioned production conditions

    Exports/Imports could change, although some areas are already outside the optimal planting window of most crops.

    We will closely monitor the developments on the weather front but must mention that the past few weeks’ predictions proved fruitless.
    Be that as it may, we have not changed our production expectations from what we reported a few weeks back . While the harvest is expected to be lower than the previous season in the case of maize and sunflower seed, South Africa’s supplies will still be at comfortable levels due to large stocks from the 2017/18 production season, and also the fact that the expected crop is higher than annual consumption in the case of maize.

    Between October and February, which is planting to pollination, the weather becomes an important factor in the South African grains and oilseeds market and, to some extent, amongst the major drivers of prices. This has been the case in the past few weeks, but the exchange rate fluctuation and developments in the global agricultural market also influenced the SAFEX market . Overall, while the activity will possibly slow in the market as the festive season approaches, the above-mentioned factors could remain the key drivers of SAFEX prices in the coming weeks. AGBIZ 

  • Despite grain storage in sub-Saharan Africa being one of the key leaking points in the harvested cereal’s supply chain, several interventions are being rolled out to reduce post-harvest losses to at least 50% as governments in the region strive to achieve the 2014 Malabo Declaration target set by African Union member-countries. 

  • Although unfavorable weather conditions contributed to a drop in Russia’s grain harvest from a record setting 2017-18, it is still higher than the 10-year average.

  • Malaysia doesn’t produce any wheat and produces a small corn crop, leading it to import both for food and feed uses. Rice remains its staple food and a lack of self-sufficiency makes it a big importer. It is, however, a major producer and exporter of palm oil.

  • The inherent uncertainty around weather conditions remains a major risk to global wheat production in the foreseeable future. Whether one looks at Europe, North America or Southern Africa, there are increasing reports of drier weather conditions. If dryness persists for a prolonged period, it could threaten wheat yields and, in turn, lead to a downward revision of the optimistic outlook of 2020/21 global wheat production of a record 768 million tonnes that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently forecasts. Over the past week, Romania, Russia and Ukraine are amongst countries which saw their 2020/21 wheat production forecasts revised down because of expected poor yields in some spring wheat-growing regions. What's more, the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands and parts of Germany are also amongst the European regions currently experiencing inadequate moisture.

     

     The same is true for the US where analysts now have some doubts that the USDA wheat yields forecasts will materialise if there aren’t sufficient rains in the coming days or weeks. We now look to the USDA’s crop conditions report which will release the results of crop conditions for the week of 24th of May 2020 on Tuesday. In the week of 17th May 2020, about 52% of the US winter wheat was rated good or excellent, which is slightly behind the 66% rating in the corresponding day in the previous year.  To a certain extent, this shows the impact of dryness in some regions of the US wheat industry.

     

    For a broader update of the 2020/21 global wheat production estimates, we look to the USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report which will be released on the 11th of June 2020. In the meantime, various crop forecasts from governments and analysts suggest that the USDA might have to revise down the optimistic estimate of a record 768 million tonnes in the next release. The magnitude of such revisions, however, will largely depend on the weather conditions in the coming weeks.

     

    In Southern Africa, there aren’t many major wheat producers, with South Africa being the only major producer in the region. The winter wheat planting activity in the country commenced at the start of April and will continue until the end of this month or first week of June, which is when the optimal planting window closes. By the week of the 24th of May 2020, nearly two-thirds of the estimated 495 000 hectares for the 2020/21 season had been planted. Various regions of the major wheat-producing province, Western Cape, have experienced persistent dryness which somewhat slowed the planting activity. Moreover, the aforementioned intended planting area for the 2020/21 wheat season is down by 8% from the previous season.

     

    South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee will release its first winter wheat production forecast on the 27th of August 2020. It is only on that day that we will have a sense of how big the 2020/21 wheat crop could be. The preliminary estimates from the International Grains Council (IGC) paint an optimistic picture of 22% y/y increase in South Africa’s 2020/21 wheat production to 1.8 million tonnes. While it is still early to make a concrete judgement, we doubt if this will materialise under the expected area plantings and dryness. Perhaps, the IGC took a leaf from the South African Weather Service in drafting the underlying assumptions for this estimate.

     

     On the 30th of April 2020, the local weather bureau estimated an increased chance of above-normal rainfall in the south-western regions of South Africa, which included the Western Cape between May and August 2020. So far, the forecast rainfall hasn’t materialised. Notwithstanding that the rainfall forecast for this week promises widespread showers over most regions of the Western Cape, which could be a welcome relief and conducive for the planting activity currently underway.

     

    In a nutshell, the weather remains a major risk that requires constant monitoring in the global wheat market. This means, while the fears about lower global wheat supplies have eased following the release of the 768 million tonnes production estimate for 2020/21 season, a lot will depend on weather conditions for the coming weeks. With that said, we still think there is no need for panic at this point or for major wheat-producing countries to re-consider the restrictive trade policy they had intended to implement at the start of the pandemic when they feared for wheat shortages. The current weather forecast only suggests that global production might not be as large as initially expected, but there aren’t signs of potential shortages.

     

    WEEKLY HIGHLIGHTS

     SA maize harvest process slightly delayed

     

    The late start of the 2019/20 maize production season because of dryness when farmers commenced planting, means that the harvest process will be slightly later than usual. This is clear from the maize producer deliveries data for the first three weeks of the 2020/21 marketing year (corresponds with the 2019/20 production season), which are down by 19% compared to the corresponding period last year, with about 277 178 tonnes delivered in the week of 15th of May 2020. This is the case, although the 2019/20 maize harvest is expected to be up by 35% y/y, estimated at 15.2 million tonnes, which is the second largest harvest on record . Essentially, the harvest process has started across all provinces, but still at very preliminary stages.

     

    Nevertheless, with the weather outlook for maize-producing regions of the South Africa showing clears skies for the next two weeks, the harvest activity could gain momentum around mid-June 2020. This means that in the coming months, the increase in harvest activity could add downward pressure on maize prices, which at the end of the past week traded at roughly the same levels as in the previous year (21 May 2019). White and yellow maize prices were at R2 674 per tonne and R2 682 per tonne, respectively, on 21 May 2020. The downward pressure on prices is likely, particularly as the country is expecting a bumper maize harvest. The one factor that could somewhat minimise the potential decline on maize prices and other agricultural commodity prices is the weaker domestic currency, which currently shows a strong correlation (see, The recent sharp price increases in South Africa’s white maize shouldn’t be a worry: a temporary market blip, published on 25 April 2020 for maize price and USD/ZAR correlation).

     DATA RELEASES THIS WEEK

     

     From a global perspective, on Tuesday the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will release the weekly crop progress data. This is important data to monitor grains and oilseeds planting activity across the US for the 2020/21 production season, which promises to be a good one, despite the glitches caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and drier weather conditions.

     

    There has already been enormous progress in planting activity across the US. On the 17th of May 2020, about 80% of the intended area for maize in 2020/21 season had already been planted. This compares to 44% in the corresponding week the previous year and a five-year average of 71%. In the same day, about 53% of the intended area for soybeans had already been planted, compared to 16% on the 17th of May 2019 and a five-year average of 38%. Also, worth noting is that the planting activity in the US in 2019 was far behind schedule because of excessive rains at the start of the season.

     

     On Friday, the USDA will release the weekly export sales data. This is important data to monitor as it will give an indication of the US agriculture exports to China, and help us monitor the progress on commitments made in phase one trade deal and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade.

     

     On the domestic front, on Wednesday, the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) will release the weekly grain producer deliveries data for the week of 22nd of May 2020. This covers both summer and winter crops. But the focus is on summer crops since the winter crops are still at planting stages. As indicated above, in the third week of the 2020/21 maize marketing year, which was on the 15th of May 2020, about 277 178 tonnes of maize had already been delivered to commercial silos. About 58% was yellow maize, with 42% being white maize. This, however, is a small fraction of the expected harvest of 15.2 million tonnes in the 2019/20 production season (which corresponds with 2020/21 marketing year).

     

    Unlike maize, where the harvest season is still at its very early stages, there has been progress in the soybean harvest. In the week of 15th of May 2020, about 842 428 tonnes had been delivered to commercial silos. This equates to 65% of the expected harvest of 1.3 million tonnes in the 2019/20 season. Also, on the 15th of May 2020, about 211 279 tonnes of sunflower seed, which accounts for 29% of the expected harvest in 2020/21 marketing year had already been delivered to commercial silos.

     

      On Thursday, SAGIS will release the weekly grain trade data. In the third week of the 2020/21 marketing year, about 59 702 tonnes of maize had already been exported, all to the neighbouring countries. This too is a small fraction of the 2.7 million tonnes of South Africa’s 2020/21 maize exports we currently forecast, which is up by 90% y/y. This notable increase is supported by the expected large harvest, which is set to be the second largest in the history of South Africa, at 15.2 million tonnes. In terms of wheat, South Africa is a net importer. In the week of the 15th of May 2020, South Africa’s 2019/20 wheat imports amounted to 1.2 million tonnes, which equates to 66% of the seasonal import forecast.

  • In its Agri Commodities Monthly Report for October, Rabobank noted short-term support for wheat futures worldwide on the basis of tightening global fundamentals. 

  • Ukrainian farmers have harvested over 66 million tonnes of grain in 2018, which exceeds the record figure of 2016, according to the press service of the Ukraine Agrarian Policy Ministry.

  • World total grains production is forecast to hit a three-year low, falling short of demand and keeping global trade strong, the International Grains Council said following its 48th Council Session on Dec. 4 in Paris, France.

  • SA’s recent agricultural GDP figures, which show that the sector escaped the recession in the third quarter, expanding 6.5% on a quarter-on-quarter (seasonally-adjusted annualised) basis, are no call for celebration.

  • Ukraine’s grain harvest in 2018 hit a record 70 million tonnes, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said at a business forum on Dec. 11. 

  • Durban harbour is key to South Africa’s grain trade. In the 2017/18 marketing year, South Africa exported 2.3 million tonnes of maize (white and yellow). About 74% of this went to markets through Durban harbour (nothing through other harbours), with the rest exported by road and rail to the continent.

  • Delayed rainfall in most parts of Zambia, coupled with low maize stocks in the National Food Reserve Agency silos, poses severe food insecurity for the 16 million people in the Southern African state, over 90% of whom depend on maize as a staple food.

  • The world’s grain markets face a year of challenges and uncertainty, with weather and politics likely to drive trade flows and prices, said the keynote speaker at the Global Grain Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • As a result of maize prices increasing to import parity price levels and carcass prices declining due to the suspension of beef exports as a result of SA’s loss of its free Foot-and-mouth disease status, feedlots are near break-even cost levels.

  • The International Grains Council on Jan. 24 issued its Grain Market Report for January in which it lowered its forecast for 2018-19 world soybean production and raised its outlook for the 2018-19 corn crop. The IGC also provided other updated supply-and-demand forecasts for those crops for the current marketing year.  

  • The key focus in the South African summer grains and oilseed market last week was the national Crop Estimates Committee’s preliminary planting estimates data, particularly maize.

  • Although I use peanut butter almost daily, for some reason I had not looked at its production pipeline in the past couple of months until today when I received a call from a Zambian trader looking to export peanuts (groundnuts) to South Africa. This prompted me to do some back of the envelope calculations on the South African supplies for the 2019/20 marketing year, which starts on 01 March 2019.