South African farmers intended to plant a total area of 4.47 million hectares of summer grain and oilseed in the 2023/24 season, up 2% year-on-year (y/y), according to the Central Estimates Committee data.
The 2023/24 maize planting intention was at 2.63 million hectares, up 2% y/y, and well above the 10-year average area of 2.53 million hectares.
About 1.58 million hectares was white maize (up 4% y/y), and 1.05 million hectares was yellow maize (down 1% y/y).
The sunflower seed planting could increase by 15% y/y from the 2022/23 season to 640 000 hectares, which was also well above the 10-year average.
Sorghum area could lift by 12% y/y to 38 000 hectares (which was still below the 10-year average of 51 102 hectares).
The groundnut area would likely increase significantly by 36% y/y to 42 550 hectares (slightly lower than the 10-year average of 43 143 hectares).
The dry beans planting intentions were up by 15% y/y, estimated at 42 300 hectares.
Surprisingly, the soybean area plantings could fall 7% y/y to 1.07 million hectares.
This was although El Niño was on South Africa's doorstep. The excellent soil moisture from the past rainy seasons and prospects of rainfall throughout this year had convinced sector stakeholders that there may still be decent summer grain and oilseed plantings.
The South African Weather Service expected the El Niño-induced dryness or below-normal rainfall to mainly be a reality from the start of next year and the current year to bring favourable showers still.
The Agricultural Business Chamber(Agbiz) said local farmers had generally signalled that they would still plant the typical summer grain and oilseed area.
Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said it was still early in the season and South Africa would only have a preliminary area planting estimate for the 2023/24 season at the end of January. Still, these intentions to plan painted an encouraging picture.
"From now on, we will be watching the rainfall and the temperature conditions across the country. Our baseline view is that with improved soil moisture from the last rainy seasons, mainly in east and central South Africa, the expected El Niño will likely have minimal impact on the agricultural conditions. With that said, we remain concerned about the far western regions of South Africa," Sihlobo said.
Farmers were planting in the 2023/24 season with relatively better agricultural input prices than the last season, although not fully back to pre-Covid-19 levels.
Sihlobo said for example, last month, fertiliser prices were down, on average, by roughly 50% from a year ago. Fertiliser accounted for about a third of grain farmers' input costs, so price declines would positively impact their finances.
"Moreover, the fungicides and insecticides prices are down, on average, by roughly 20% from a year ago. We see similar price declines in herbicide prices," he said.
However, the chief economist said commodity prices had also declined from levels seen a year ago, which meant there were not necessarily large profits to be made in crop farming.
"Still, this input cost environment is more forgiving than a year ago, and the weather conditions are not as harsh as some may have feared. All this is a recipe for yet another decent agricultural season," he said.