Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana. Picture: GCIS
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana. Picture: GCIS

High production costs, fluctuating commodity prices, climate change and outbreaks of pests and diseases have caused a significant drop in wheat production in SA.

Wheat is the second-most important grain crop produced in SA after maize. However, local production averages 2.3-million tons, far below the levels of consumption. To meet demand, SA imports about 1.7-million tons of wheat annually.

The department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries is concerned about the low levels of local wheat production.

The department “supports wheat producers with technical advice, which includes [that about] cultivar choice, production site selection, soil preparation, cultivation practices, pest and disease control measures, harvesting, as well as post-harvest practices”, agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana said in a written reply to a question from African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Cheryllyn Dudley.

Dudley had asked the minister whether the government is concerned about the increasing wheat consumption linked to population growth and increasing urbanisation, as local production is continuing to decrease while imports increase annually.

She also asked Zokwana whether the government intends to implement any measures to assist technically with the production of wheat to improve the profit margins and outputs to make it a viable crop to farm.

Zokwana said the Agricultural Research Council is conducting breeding programmes for wheat. The programmes are aimed at developing appropriate and high-yielding cultivars. Focus is also on developing cultivars that are drought tolerant as well as those that are pest and disease resistant.

“Private and public sector stakeholders are also working with the government to increase productivity and competitiveness of the wheat industry. One such initiative is the Wheat Breeding Platform, which aims to serve as a pre-breeding facility which develops suitable varieties at a rapid pace which are then available to industry for further targeted breeding,” said Zokwana.

“In addition, a statutory levy was introduced to provide research and technology development funding for open-pollinated cultivars. This will also encourage seed growers to make the latest breeding material available to South African farmers,” he said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za