WHILE the weather outlook from the South African weather authorities was not favourable for both the planting of winter crops and the harvesting of summer crops and fruits, this was still not something to worry about, according to the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) chief economist Wandile Sihlobo.
“We remain optimistic about South Africa's agricultural activity in the coming months,” Sihlobo said yesterday.
Each year, the months of April and October are critical periods in the seasonal cycle of South Africa's agriculture. These months corresponded with summer and winter crops' planting and harvesting periods.
In October, the winter crops were typically maturing and approaching the harvesting stages, while the summer crop regions usually commence plantings around the same time. In April, it was the opposite, as it was typically marked by the planting of winter crops and the approach of the harvesting season for summer crops.
Agbiz said notably, the harvesting period also approached around this time for major fruits such as citrus.
It said these events made the weather an even more important consideration during this period as the planting regions of winter crops would need increased moisture, whereas the harvesting period of summer crops and horticulture would require cooler and drier weather conditions.
This time around, however, the weather conditions might not be as optimal for harvesting summer crops and planting winter crops.
In its Seasonal Climate Watch at the end of last month, the South African Weather Service (Saws) noted that its "multi-model rainfall forecast indicated above-normal rainfall for the north-east of the country and below-normal rainfall for the southwest during late autumn through to early winter.
He said the current weather forecast did not spell disaster for farming.
“Rather (it spells), a need for farmers to plan the planting activity with the prospects of dryness in the earlier part of the winter crop season. We do not foresee this as a threat to the winter crops, especially if the weather conditions normalize later. The soil moisture in the winter crop growing areas of South Africa is at reasonably better levels following higher rainfall in the past season and the 2021/22 summer. Notably, better soil moisture in provinces such as Free State, Limpopo and Northern Cape could help boost winter crop plantings, specifically for wheat,” Sihlobo said.
According to Agbiz, the current wheat prices, with spot prices up 35 percent year on year at the end of March at R6 615 per tonne, this could also incentivise farmers to increase plantings. As the agricultural organisation has previously stated, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war was a major factor behind the increases in wheat prices globally.
The Crop Estimates Committee will release the data on farmers' planting intentions for winter crops at the end of this month. The data was expected to show more robust plantings than the 2021/22 production season, where wheat plantings were at 523 500 hectares, canola at 100 000 hectares, and oats at 36 250 hectares. These plantings were also higher than the 2020/21 season.
At the same time, the summer crop regions were not necessarily at risk of crop damage or deterioration in quality because of the current showers. However, what could happen was a delay in harvesting compared with the previous year's schedule.
South Africa's summer crop harvest was at relatively good levels when viewed from a long-term basis. The 2021/22 maize harvest was projected at 14.7 million tonnes, which was well above the 10-year average of 12.8 million tonnes and annual maize consumption of 11.8 million tonnes. The sunflower seed and soybeans harvests were projected to be the second-largest on record, at 959 450 tonnes and 1.9 million tonnes, respectively, Agbiz said.
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