SA cuts maize output estimate for 3rd time

Johannesburg  - South Africa may lower its estimate for corn production this season for a third time to the lowest since 2006 because of damage from the worst drought in more than a century, a survey showed.

Local growers will probably produce 7 million tonnes this year, according to a median estimate of nine analysts in a Bloomberg survey. That’s 0.9% less than last month’s forecast of 7.07 million tonnes by the Crop Estimates Committee and would also be 30% less than the 9.96 million tonnes produced in 2015.

The range was 6.5 million tonnes and 7.07 million tonnes. The committee will release its forecast on April 26.

South Africa, the continent’s top producer of corn and a net exporter of agricultural products, may need to import 3.8 million tonnes of the grain this year to supplement domestic supplies, according to Grain SA, the biggest lobby group for grain and oil seed farmers. That’s after rainfall last year declined to the least since 1904, damaging crops and raising prices. White maize is used as a staple food known locally as pap, while the yellow type is mainly fed to animals.

“Summer crops have been under drought stress for a long period,” Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, said in an e-mail. “At the moment, even if we can get some rains, it is too late for rainfall to lead to improvements in summer crops.”

South African farmers will probably plant 495 000 hectares of wheat this season, six analysts said in the same survey. That is 2.7% more than last year. While the nation is the sub-Saharan region’s second-biggest producer of wheat, it’s still a net importer, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

“Any rainfall that we might receive from today onwards could potentially benefit a small section of late sunflower-seed plantings, and to a larger extent the winter crops of wheat, canola and barley, as they are approaching the planting season," Sihlobo said.

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