Despite widespread flooding, the farmers of Mzansi planted slightly more summer crops than they did last year. Estimates released yesterday by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development’s crop estimates committee, point to the 2021/22 summer crop plantings standing at 4.21 million hectares, which marks an increase of 0.4%.
According to agricultural minister Thoko Didiza this provides hope to the country’s food security status despite the heavy rains which have led to farm floods across the country in recent weeks.
“The 2021/22 agricultural season started with rising concerns that floods would damage crops in provinces such as North West, the Free State and parts of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal,” she said in a statement. Farmers in some regions had also worried that they wouldn’t be able to plant their usual hectares and that it would negatively affect the agricultural economy.
Despite many individual farmers having suffered devastating losses indeed, producers are estimated to have collectively planted 4.21 million hectares. While it is 0.4% more than in the previous production season, it is 3% less than the intended plantings at the start of the season.
The declines are in maize, soybeans, groundnuts, sorghum and dry beans. Sunflower seed plantings are, however, up by 21% to 580 000 hectares.
Maize plantings fell by 5% year on year to 2.61 million hectares. Still, this is well above the 10-year average area planting of 2.53 million hectares.
Meanwhile the groundnuts area is down by 12% year on year, at 34 000 hectares, which is well below the 10-year average of 43 348 hectares.
Sorghum and dry beans plantings are respectively down 29% and 10% from last season, with 35 000 hectares and 42 450 hectares planted, well below the 10-year average.
Didiza said that, through farmers’ resilience and dedication, they pushed through the heavy rains and continued to plant even beyond the optimal planting windows. For the eastern regions of the country the optimal planting window ends in November and for the western areas in December.
“The data is comforting and the first bit of information that suggests that, while the recent rains have been destructive in many regions, South Africa’s food security is still protected.”
Se had a word of caution, though. “The weather conditions for the next two months remain critical for the ultimate crop yields of the 2021/22 season.”
Focus on yields
Meanwhile, according to Wandile Sihlobo, the chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), the actual plantings are a relief as many analysts, including Agbiz, thought that there would be a much smaller area planted.
With the plantings data on hand, the discussion will likely shift to yields and crop tonnage per hectare, Sihlobo reckons. But it is unclear what these yields will be.
“Various industry surveys and our general observations suggest that areas such as the western regions of the Free State, North West and parts of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, which received heavy flooding, could realise lower yields than the previous season,” he said.
According to Agbiz, South Africa will need at least an average national yield of 4.6 tonnes per hectare to have a maize harvest of 12.01 million tonnes and sufficient maize supplies for domestic consumption.
Such a yield estimate, Sihlobo said, is possible given that the floods that caused the damage were not a nationwide challenge; only certain regions of some provinces were impacted.
The sector will have its first official production estimate of the season when the crop estimates committee releases it on 28 February.
Didiza said that her department was optimistic that there will be reasonably good yields and, after that, a sufficient crop harvest for local needs and for neighbouring countries.
“I thank all the farmers who planted in these challenging past few weeks… Our thoughts are also with the farmers who lost crops due to floods.”
Her department is currently collecting information on the areas that have experienced damage and they work tirelessly to assist within the limits of available resources, Didiza said.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.