Less rainfall and warmer temperatures are to blame for a significant decrease this year in the area planted to maize. File Photo: IOL

JOHANNESBURG –After a slow start to the 2018/19 summer crop season with severe dryness during December particularly in parts of the North West and Free State provinces, conditions rebounded early in January 2019 as good rains provided the much-needed moisture for planting, a senior agricultural economist said on Wednesday.

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 season, said Paul Makube, a senior agricultural economist at FNB Agri-Business.

The latest report from the National Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) released on Tuesday shows that farmers have planted 2.27 million hectares of maize this season, down 2.2 percent from the previous season.

Of the three major producing provinces, the biggest decline was in the Free State with a five percent drop in planted area, but the North West, which accounts for 21 percent of the total country area under maize, has raised its area planted by one percent to 487,000 hectares.

Both provinces experienced severe dryness during December, raising fears of a significant drop in 2018/19 output.

"While the drop in maize area was expected given the bad conditions towards mid-season, the figures were much better than earlier market expectations," Makube said.

"This might bring a total crop of closer to 12 million tons of maize, enough to meet the country’s annual consumption if conditions improve further in the near term. Considering the huge carryover maize stocks of 3.2 million tons, supplies will remain adequate for the year ahead."

"The implications are for further limited upside for grain prices and positive for inflation outcomes in the months ahead," he added.

The CEC is due to release its revised area estimate and first production forecast for summer field crops for 2019 on February 27.

African News Agency (ANA)