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Country Briefs

  South Africa

Reference Date: 15-December-2017


  1. Prospect favourable for 2018 maize crop

  2. Beneficial weather boosts maize production to record high in 2017

  3. Exports expected to increase sharply in 2017/18 and stocks forecast at above-average level

  4. Maize prices remained stable and at lower year-on-year levels

Favourable prospects for 2018 cereal crop

Planting of the 2018 maize crop is virtually complete in eastern areas and is expected to be finalized in western regions in early 2018. Although mostly below average rains were received at the beginning of the planting period between October and early November, precipitation levels were mostly sufficient for plantings and crop establishment in eastern parts. In western areas and some parts of the main producing Free State Province, however, moistures deficits were observed in October and November, causing some delays to planting operations and resulting in below average vegetation conditions of newly-emerged crops. Nonetheless, with heavy rains received at the start of December, crop conditions were reported to be generally satisfactory and are expected to improve should favourable rains, forecast for early next year, materialize.

Total commercial maize plantings for 2018 are foreseen to contract by 6 percent on a yearly basis to a near-average level, driven by lower sowings for white maize. The reduction mostly results from lower profitability for maize reflecting reduced prices in 2017, while abundant subregional supplies and consequently diminished export demand compared to the previous year also weighed negatively on planting intentions. Although the cereal output is expected to decline in 2018 from the record 2017 level, preliminary forecasts suggest it will remain above average.

Record high maize output in 2017

Maize production in 2017 reached a record high of about 17.5 million tonnes (both commercial and non-commercial), more than double the level of 2016 and well above the previous five-year average. The significant production upturn reflects a 35 percent increase in plantings, which was spurred by higher prices, and bumper yields, mostly owing to wetter conditions following the dry weather conditions experienced in the previous season.

Sorghum production also increased sharply in 2017, mostly on the back of higher yields. However, for the 2017 winter barley and wheat crops, with the harvest expected to be finalized in December, moisture conditions in the major producing areas curbed yields and as a result production of both cereals fell to below-average levels.

Overall, cereal production in 2017 is estimated at a well above-average level of 19.5 million tonnes, an increase of 84 percent compared with the drought-affected and below-average 2016 output.

Large increase in maize exports

The country is expected to export around 2.4 million tonnes of maize in the 2017/18 marketing year (April/May), and consequently return to being a net exporter, in contrast to the previous year when an above average volume of nearly 2.4 million tonnes had to be imported.

Given the ample subregional supply situation, most of South Africa’s maize exports are expected to be delivered outside of Southern Africa. Between April and November, about 60 percent of the exported amount was shipped to East Asia, notably Japan, while a significant volume was also exported to Kenya.

In addition to increased exports, closing stocks at the end of 2017/18 are forecast to rise by almost four times to an above-average level compared to the reduced stocks in 2016/17.

Prices of maize stable

Prices of maize were generally stable in the previous months as upward pressure from a weaker currency and some earlier dry conditions during the start of the planting period for the 2018 maize crop were partly offset by forecasts pointing to good seasonal rainfall prospects. In addition, the abundant national supplies have continued to exert downward pressure, maintaining prices below their year-earlier levels.

For wheat, prices were slightly higher on a yearly basis as of November, mostly reflecting the impact of dry conditions that are expected to curb production of the 2017 winter wheat crop.

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