JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Farmers in South Africa are concerned that a drought and hot weather could delay the coming season’s plantings of grain crops and damage yields.
“In certain areas it is very, very dry. We are concerned about parts of the Limpopo Province, big parts of Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape,” said agricultural industry body AgriSA Executive Director Omri van Zyl.
Maize and soybeans are the main grain crops in South Africa and farmers were hit by a disastrous El Nino-induced drought in 2015/2016 and faced late rains in the 2018/2019 season.
In the current planting season, severe drought linked to climate change has scorched land across southern Africa and U.N. agencies have warned that a record 45 million people face food shortages.
The region’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the International Panel on Climate Change. In much of South Africa, an unusually hot, dry summer has dwindled water supplies this year.
Maize planting in eastern South Africa - the continent’s biggest producer - has been delayed, Grain SA CEO Jannie de Villiers told Reuters.
“We are concerned that we won’t be able to make it because normally the planting window for the Mpumalanga province and KwaZulu-Natal is up to the 15th of November,” said de Villiers, adding that he could not yet estimate how much had been planted.
The South African Weather Service expects lower than normal rainfall from November to January over the eastern parts of the country, while above-normal rainfall is predicted for the western to central parts of the country.
Forecasts also predict below-normal rainfall conditions until March with higher temperatures across the country. The most critical time for yields runs from October to February.
“What makes matters worse is that the season we are coming from, 2018/2019 production season, was not particularly a good one. Now if we are followed by another season that is dry that could lead to a really poor performance,” said Agricultural Business Chamber economist Wandile Sihlobo, adding that it was too early to estimate the impact.
Early estimates for the 2019/2020 season expect farmers to plant 2.519 million hectares of maize.
“The farmers, a lot of them are at the last crop they can afford to plant. If they are not going to make this one ... a lot of them (are) going out of business,” said de Villiers.
Lower maize yields would also drive up animal feed costs, as the eastern part of the maize belt, which makes up around 40% of the output, mainly produces yellow maize used in animal feed.
The late rains have also hit agricultural machinery sales with October tractor sales down 30% and combine harvester sales 59% lower year-on-year, data from the South African Agricultural Machinery Association showed on Thursday.
Agri SA is conducting a survey of farmers, which it expects to release next week, to access the impact of the dry weather.
Editing by Tim Cocks and Susan Fenton