South African farmers intend to plant 25% more hectares of maize this season in the hope that decent rainfall will ease the hardship caused by last year’s scorching drought, a Reuters’ poll showed on Monday.
SA’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) is expected to announce that farmers plan to sow 2.44-million hectares with maize, up from the 1.947-million hectares planted last year, according to an average estimate of five trading houses surveyed by Reuters.
The range was 2.14-million to 2.7-million hectares.
The estimates committee will give its first forecast on intentions to plant on Wednesday for the 2016-17 maize-growing season — which has already started on the eastern edge of the maize belt.
"We believe this year the farmers will get enough rain to plant 2.7-million hectares," said one trader.
An El Niño weather pattern, which ended in May, brought severe drought with blistering temperatures last season.
The drought turned SA from a net exporter of grain to a net importer in the 2015-16 year.
The high level of imports in the marketing year cost in excess of R2.2bn.
The CEC has pegged last season’s harvest at 7.5-million tonnes, 25% smaller than the 9.95-million tonnes reaped the previous year, but higher than initial expectations when the drought was really biting.
Another poor maize harvest would have serious implications for Africa’s most industrialised economy after white maize, the staple food, doubled in price last year, fuelling inflation.
The main white maize contract is down about 30% from record peaks of more than R5,200 a tonne scaled in January, but at R3,750 a tonne is still high by historical standards and could give grain farmers added incentive to spend money planting a bigger area.
Despite the El Niño weather pattern dissipating, drought conditions are still afflicting much of the country and temperatures are expected to remain above normal until mid-summer, the national weather service said earlier this month.
But longer-range forecasts hold out hope for more rain this season and recent days have seen welcome showers over parts of the parched maize belt.
Half of the production consists of white maize, for human food consumption.
Maize needs 450mm-600mm of water per season, which is mainly acquired from soil-moisture reserves.