A maize plant is seen among other dried maize at a field in Hoopstad, in the Free State. South Africa suffered its driest year on record in 2015. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - South Africa, the largest corn producer on the continent, will probably reap the smallest harvest since 2007 this year after the country suffered the lowest rainfall since records began because of the global El Nino weather pattern.

Growers will probably produce 7.44 million metric tons of corn in the season that ends in April, Marda Scheepers, a spokeswoman for the nation’s Crop Estimates Committee, said by phone on Wednesday. That’s 25 percent less than the 9.9 million tons in the previous season and exceeds a 6.1 million-ton median prediction by seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The area sowed was 1.995 million hectares, 25 percent less than in 2015 and the smallest since 2006. The estimate by six analysts was for 1.6 million hectares, or 37 percent less than the 2.55 million tons farmers had planned.

Prices for white corn, used to make a staple food known as pap, rose to a record on January 21 as dry weather hurt supply. South Africa will probably need to import about 970 000 tons of corn in the year to April and 5 million tons of corn in the following 12 months as rainfall declined to the least since at least 1904, according to Grain SA, the biggest farm lobby.

“Assuming that this crop will materialise, this would mean that South Africa might not need 5 million tons of maize imports as previously expected, but would rather import 3 million tons to supplement the domestic supplies,” Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, said in an emailed note on Thursday, using the local term for corn. “However, it is important to highlight that this is still a preliminary forecast; hence, one would need to observe the next two or three estimates to get a clear picture of the current crop conditions.”

The wheat-production estimate was unchanged at 1.5 million tons for the season that ended in September. This compares with a median prediction for a 0.3 percent reduction to 1.495 million tons this season by four of the analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Sunflower production this year will probably fall 6 percent to 622 000 tons, while groundnut output may decline 48 percent to 29 600 tons, Scheepers said. The soybean harvest may decrease27 percent to 768 560 tons while the drybean crop may fall 52 percent to 35 150 tons. Sorghum production will probably increase 2 percent to 119 400 tons.

White corn for July delivery dropped 2.3 percent to R4 770 ($291) a ton on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg Wednesday, while the yellow variety for the same month declined 1.3 percent to R3 540.

The white-corn crop may be 31 percent smaller than last year’s, falling to 3.27 million tons, while the harvest of the yellow type may decline 20 percent to 4.17 million tons, the committee said.