JOHANNESBURG -  The medium-term seasonal outlook produced by the South African Weather Service (SAWS) remains benign for KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) farmers with decent rains expected, while past rains have filled up some dams so that the average in 2018 was higher than the average in 2017.

This was also reflected in the October rainfall data that showed that Richards Bay in KZN had the highest rainfall of all weather stations with 177 millimetres (mm), while the University of Zululand was not far behind with 159 mm. The rain was, however, patchy so Paddock, for instance, only had 45 mm in October 2018 compared with 270mm in October 2017 and a long term average of 134 mm for October. 

In December Babanango had the highest monthly rainfall in KZN with 177 mm and Ixopo also had decent rain with 159 mm. Richards Bay had 88 mm and Paddock had better rain than in October with a 80 mm rainfall, while Cedara had 125 mm, but Estcourt only had 43 mm. 

First National Bank agricultural economist Paul Makube said that in his view the outlook for the season ahead was moderate to favourable for most agricultural commodities with early season rains beneficial for cultivated crops and pastures. 

“This bodes well for crops such as potatoes, soya beans, maize and sugar, including pastures that are critical for beef and dairy despite concerns of the developing El Nino weather pattern,” he said.

He cautioned that some dryness late in the rainfall season was likely to impact negatively on the sugar crop. 

“The short to medium term weather outlook still calls for rains across the producing areas, which bodes well for the developing crops and a good finish to the 2018/19 summer crop season,” he said.

The rains in early January resulted in a surprise for most analysts as the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), had a projection of 1.98 million hectares, while the latest National Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) report indicated that farmers have planted 2.27 million ha of maize this season, which is only 2.2% less than last season. 

“I suspect that the late plantings might have been more than anticipated following early January rainfall. Although this is a welcome development, it is important to stress that these are initial estimates; there could be a revision next month and our view still leans towards a possible downward adjustment,” Agbiz economist Wandile Sihlobo said.
Afasa president Dr Vuyo Mahlati said,""This means that area planted (1.257million) in 2018/19 season for white maize is 0.88% (11 100ha) less than the area that was planted (1.268 million ha) in 2017/18 season. Therefore, this implies that the expected yield might be less as compared to the previous season. Similarly, with the yellow maize, the reduction of 38 850ha in the current season (1.012million ha) from the previous year (1.051million ha). 

He said there were three implications for black farmers and communities.

Firstly, the  estimates showed that the drought had serious effect on farmers in general hence the reduction in planted hectares. This also hampered efforts for black commercial farmer development as there iwas limited capacity for resilience. This in turn impacts on income to families.

Secondly, food security was adversely affected at household and national levels.

Thirdly, it was important to note that black farmers were already negatively affected by the fragmented planting  support by the government, which resulted in late planting and others missing the season.

- BUSINESS REPORT