The launch of the Agro Energy Fund marks a pivotal step in addressing energy challenges in South Africa's agricultural sector. Led by a dedicated energy task team, this cooperative effort aims to counter the impact of energy cuts on farming. Spearheaded by Minister Thoko Didiza, the initiative unites stakeholders like Agbiz, Agri SA, and the Land Bank to ensure sector stability. With a focus on energy-intensive activities, the fund supports renewable energy adoption, securing productivity, and promoting sustainability for a resilient agricultural future. This collaborative endeavor sets a precedent for positive change in the industry.
The much awaited 15th BRICS Summit and attendant dtic-BRICS Business Council (BBC) events have been held from 13-23 August 2023. Heads of state from all BRICS States except Russia are attending in person, together with business and governmental delegations. The BRICS Summits allows the agribusiness sectors across BRICS an opportunity to profile agriculture and agro-processing and seek agreement on measures and commitments to facilitate trade.
South Africa's livestock industry has faced numerous challenges over the past few years. One of these was the rise in feed prices since 2020, especially for maize and soybeans. The rise in animal feed prices coincided with a worsening in consumers financial strain due to the damaging effects of the pandemic. Thus, we saw a decline in the demand for red meat products as consumers opted for relatively cheaper forms of protein. Moreover, the spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) to six of South Africa's nine provinces for the first time in history was another challenge for the industry. This brought temporary bans in certain export markets, extending to auctions and livestock movement, mainly cattle, for some time in 2022.
April is an important month in South Africa's agricultural sector, especially for field crops. Later this month, farmers in the Western and Northern Cape, Free State, Limpopo and other winter crop growing regions will start preparing the land for 2023/24 winter wheat, canola, barley and oats production. For now, it is unclear how much area will be planted for each crop. The Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) will release the farmers' intentions to plant data, and key figures for the potential area plantings, on 26 April. We expect most crops' plantings to exceed the five-year average area. For example, the wheat five-year average area planted is 528 690 hectares, which is 7% lower than the area plantings for the 2022/23 production season. Therefore, we doubt that the 2023/24 season will see an area below the five-year average. Wheat prices, although having softened somewhat in recent months, remain relatively attractive for farmers.
South Africa’s latest agricultural machinery sales painted a mixed picture. The tractor sales were up by 6% y/y in March 2023, with 677 units sold. Meanwhile, combine harvester sales were down by 9% y/y, with 39 units sold. These data aren’t surprising, and we still believe that South Africa’s agricultural machinery sales will cool off this year, following a few years of excellent activity. For example, South Africa's tractor sales for 2022 amounted to 9 184 units, up 17% y/y and the highest annual sales for the past 40 years. The combine harvester sales amounted to 373 in the same period, up 38% y/y and the highest yearly sales figure since 1985.
The Competition Commission's recent report on agriculture and food markets dominated the conversations in the industry groupings last week. Therefore, we thought it was necessary to outline some shortcomings of the report in an essay published in the Sunday Times this past weekend. This morning, we jointly present our arguments in the Sunday Times essay with Professor Johann Kirsten of Stellenbosch University's Department of Agricultural Economics.
Although we continue to argue that South Africa should expand its agricultural export markets to new frontiers such as India, China, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, amongst others, the export drive should not be at the expense of the existing markets. We should actively engage with existing markets to stimulate the continued expansion of South African agricultural exports. The engagement should focus on the EU and Asia, both crucial regions for export growth, and the rest of the African continent.
Despite various headwinds throughout the year, South Africa's agriculture exports for 2022 did not decline as much as some feared. Data for the first eleven months of the year show exports at a cumulative US$11,9 billion, up by 3% from the same period in 2021. Moreover, US$11,9 billion is the second largest agriculture exports value on record. When we receive the December exports figure in the coming weeks, it is possible that the 2022 agricultural exports could be just under 2021 levels of US$12,4 billion or even exceed them.
After solid activity in 20221, South Africa's agricultural machinery sales will likely soften this year. We outlined several reasons for this view in our previous update. For example, we think the possible replacement rate of older machinery will likely be lower this year as the past three years saw increased new machinery sales. The rising interest rates will also continue to pressure farmers' finances. Moreover, while the agricultural sector, specifically rain-fed areas, will likely perform well, the harvest could still be less than the 2021/22 season due to prospects of lower yields and reduced planted area. This lowers the farmers' financial muscle to spend on agricultural equipment.