South Africa’s winter crop season to start soon

South Africa’s winter crop season to start soon

South Africa had a fairly good production season in 2021/22 with wheat at 2,3 million tonnes, which is the largest harvest in 20 years and record yield in some crops such as canola and oats. The large harvest was on the back of an expansion in area plantings and favourable weather conditions that supported the yields. 

The winter crop season will now commence at the end of April, mainly in the Western Cape, and the following months in other provinces. The major concerns for producers ahead of the season are the rising inputs costs; fuel, fertiliser and agrochemicals. This view was also echoed by grain farmers' representatives in our engagement this past Friday. 

Still, they remained optimistic that the plantings won't decline from levels of the past season. The view is that the relatively higher agricultural commodities prices, which are partially supported by the current Russa-Ukraine war, will incentivise farmers to maintain fairly large plantings in the 2022/23 production season starting next month.  

Moreover, we believe that the excessive summer rainfalls in most regions of South Africa helped improve soil moisture. Thus, key wheat-producing provinces such as the Free State could see plantings improve from the previous season. This is all speculative for now, and we will have farmers' intentions to plant winter crops data released by the Crop Estimates Committee on 26 April 2022.   

Importantly, wheat is now of major interest since the Russia-Ukraine war started. South Africa currently imports about half of its annual wheat usage. The improvement in 2021/22 harvest to 2,3 million tonnes led to a slight reduction in imports to 1,48 million tonnes, from 1,52 million tonnes in 2020/21 marketing year. 

Fortunately for the near term, South African millers and food processors have now brought 704 050 tonnes of the expected imports into our shores as of the week of 11 March 2022. The 2021/22 marketing year will end in September. 
Even if production is to increase in the 2022/23 production season, we doubt that South Africa would be self-sufficient in wheat production in the near term. There are limitations in production because of unfavourable climatic conditions for wheat production in some provinces and profitability challenges. 
The latter led to the decline in wheat production in some areas of the Free State over the past couple of years as farmers switched to other crops. The changing climate also played a part to an extent. Therefore, an increase in production would help lessen the import dependency but won't change the reality of South Africa being a net importer of wheat. If anything, the change could come in future through improvements in breeding.