Favourable weather conditions augur well for SA agriculture
THE UPCOMING 2021/22 agricultural season was likely to be another prolonged cycle of favourable weather conditions and good agricultural activity in South Africa, said the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz).
The chamber’s chief economist, Wandile Sihlobo, said South Africa had not had three consecutive favourable agricultural seasons in a long time.
“The typical cycles are two seasons of large agricultural output followed by a notable decline on the back of dryness. The only periods in the recent past that had three successive years of conducive weather conditions and a large crop harvest were in the 2007/8, 2008/9 and 2009/10 production seasons. In this period, commercial maize production was more than 12 million tons each year, averaging 12.5 million tons per year,” said Sihlobo.
A sharp decline in the maize area, specifically in the 2005/6 production season, characterised the prior seasons. This was primarily caused by dryness and resulted in a lower harvest of 6.6 million tons in 2005/6 and 7.1 million tons in the 2006/7 production season, he said.
Other key summer crops such as sunflower seed and soybeans registered similar dips in production, particularly in the 2006/7 season.
The 2019/20 and 2020/21 production seasons were characterised by ample rainfall, which supported agricultural activity and led to large harvests.
Sihlobo said that for the first time in South Africa, maize yields surpassed 15 million tons in two succeeding seasons, at 15.3 million tons in 2019/20 and 16.4 million tons in the 2020/21 season.
Other sub-sectors of agriculture, mainly horticulture, also recorded large production volumes in essential fruit, such as citrus. Deciduous fruit and wine grapes also showed an improvement in output from the decline of the previous years.
“As we approach the summer crop-planting season from October, the weather forecasts showed strong prospects of above-normal rainfall in the 2021/22 summer season. At the end of July 2021, the South African Weather Service indicated that South Africa could experience another La Niña this summer, albeit weaker than in 2020/21,” he said. This would build on the relatively higher soil moisture across the country following the 2020/21 season’s La Niña rains.
Agbiz said farmers were optimistic about production conditions, as evidenced by tractor sales, which, in the first seven months of this year, were 26 percent ahead of the corresponding period last year, at 3 934 units.
However, sales last year were knocked by the lockdown restrictions, making the base slightly distorted. Still, 2020 was a good year for South Africa’s tractor sales, so surpassing it meant good momentum this year.
Last year, tractor sales were 5 738 units, up by 9 percent from 2019, supported by the large summer grains and oilseeds harvest in 2019/20, Sihlobo said.
On the downside, farmers were contending with rising input costs this season. In July, agrochemicals such as glyphosate, atrazine and acetochlor were respectively up by 151 percent, 30 percent and 24 percent from July last year. Fertiliser products such as ammonia, urea, DAP and KLC were up by 184 percent, 104 percent, 115 percent and 98 percent, respectively, compared with July last year.
Agbiz said this would hit profitability margins this year, and farmers should work on receiving higher yields in order to thrive.
“The rainy weather outlook presents a conducive environment for potentially higher crop yields in the 2021/22 season. All else being equal, we are looking at an unusual period of three consecutive favourable seasons for South Africa’s agriculture, especially for field crops and horticulture. While this is positive for the sector, higher international commodity prices will keep input costs elevated for the livestock and poultry sector,” said Sihlobo.