Summer harvest at risk due to lack of rain, heatwave: Economist

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Leading agricultural economist, Wandile Sihlobo has warned that South Africa’s 2023/ 2024 summer harvest could be undermined by a lack of rain and the current heatwave being experienced in the country. He says what started as a good planting period late last year in the season, with steady rains from October last year until January, has now left farmers uncertain about the quality of their crop come harvest time.

The summer crop includes maize, soyabeans, sunflower and dry beans, among others. Due to the previous good 2022/2023 summer crops season, it seems farmers went to town, planting up to 4.4 million hectares of land late last year.

To put that in perspective, that’s up 0.4 % on the year prior’s area planted. But a sudden turn in the weather at the beginning of February could unravel farmer efforts.

“From the start of February up until now, which is the end of February, it quickly became clear that we have a problem in some areas of South Africa. We haven’t been getting sufficient rainfall this month, to an extent that when you speak with farmers, particularly in Western areas in the North West, Western Free State…farmers crop is taking a strain. Ourselves at Agbiz we’re no longer optimistic…about excellent planting taking place across the country,” says Sihlobo.

The Agricultural business chamber says for now it’s merely firing a warning shot for South Africans to be aware that crop failure could happen but that it remains a bit early to call the extent of the damage.

“The best assessment will be around the end of March which is when we’ll have the second production crop estimates. But we’ll also know as to whether we’ll get good rainfall in the last week of February and the first week of March, because those weeks are critical for saving the crop that is taking the strain. Although there are some areas where some of the crop, I might say, it is damaged from what we have seen and also the extent of the crop that has taken a strain is difficult, at this moment to measure. This is all to say that the summer crop conditions in SA are not in good shape at the moment. We’re very worried about the heatwave as well as the scant rainfall across the country and this is something that we have to watch,” Sihlobo adds.

Sihlobo says until the further assessment is made in March, it’s still too early to begin to speculate what this might mean for the evolution of summer crop food prices when they’re harvested later in the year, but notes that more rainfall in the coming days and weeks will be critical for the sector.

Video: Agricultural Yield – Summer harvest at risk due to lack of rain, heatwave