Grain farmers expect bumper harvest despite El Niño risks

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Local grain farmers expect a bumper harvest season despite the risk of extreme weather patterns. Weather experts have reported the observation of El Niño conditions. They have forecast that these conditions will persist from December to February next year.

This projection comes after a three-year dominance of the cooler La Niña pattern.

El Niño is a naturally recurring climate pattern marked by the warming of the Pacific Ocean, leading to worldwide shifts in weather patterns.

The South African Grain Association (Sagra) Chief Executive Officer, Ishmael Tshiame, says the recent good rains will result in good crops.

“We are looking forward to the good season. As you know the expected El Niño was forecast but recently we have seen that we received good rains and these rains are adding to the previous season. We have good moisture for our farmers and you know we’ll be able to make sure that we continue to have good crops for the coming year so that South Africa continues to have its food that is produced locally and we continue to feed our people. So, I think for us as Sagra, we are currently hard at work to make sure that our farmers don’t miss any planting season.”

Planting season

While farmers are excited about this coming planting season for white and yellow maize, climate conditions continue to threaten food security.

Chief Economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, Wandile Sihlobo, says should the current favourable rainfalls continue, this will result in robust export volumes.

“If the rainfall remains as favourable as we expect, this will be good not only for grains but for all agricultural products, which means then that we may continue to see some solid export volumes that we may have as a country so far in the current year of 2023. We do think that the exports will remain robust, even though they may decline a little bit from that record $12.8 billion.”

In 2022, the country’s agricultural exports reached a record $12.8-billion, up 4% from the previous year.

Sihlobo says this considerable success in a year of logistical challenges is commendable. Despite these results, the Department of Agriculture together with the Department of Trade and Industry are urged to focus on deepening trade with other countries such as China.

“We’re very optimistic about the markets that are opening up on BRICS and we think that the South African government should work hard to deepen trade with China, as well as in India and even in newly added countries on the BRICS plus, particularly in Saudi Arabia. We view those countries as important from a commerce perspective in agriculture because of their large population and we think that we should be able to see more products access in those markets.”

At the same time, Tshiame says BRICS relations are a positive move for local emerging farmers.

“I think this is an opportunity for our farmers and we welcome any export opportunities that we have. So Sagra, we believe that this will allow also our black farmers to participate in these opportunities that are out there for exports. So, we really welcome this opportunity because it shows that as South Africa, we are ready to continue to export our excess maize to other countries that need it.”

In October, the South African Weather Service warned that South Africans can expect more hotter summer than usual. It forecasted “above-normal” minimum and maximum temperatures in the months ahead in certain key areas in the country.

It further warned farmers in areas that will potentially be affected by dry and very warm weather conditions to practice soil and water conservation, proper water harvesting and storage, establishing good drainage systems, and other appropriate farming practices.