by AKANI CHAUKE
JOHANNESBURG – DRY weather conditions have delayed South African farmers from planting, delaying the start of a season where farmers intend to increase hectarage of summer crops by 7 percent.
The summer crops whose hectarage farmers plan to increase to 3,9 million hectares include yellow maize, white maize, sunflower seed, soybeans and groundnuts.
Wandile Sihlobo, economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), said in a normal season, by this period, farmers would be planting, especially in the central and eastern regions of South Africa.
“But this has not been the case because of dryness that has prevented farmers from planting,” he said.
Sihlobo pointed out soil moisture in local farmland was rated very short (dry) in nearly all regions of the country, with the exception of a few areas near the border of Eastern and Western Cape Provinces where soil moisture was rated marginally adequate as of October 25.
Over the weekend, some regions in the central parts of South Africa received light rainfall, which Agbiz welcomed.
“But this was not sufficient to make meaningful improvement on soil moisture,” Sihlobo stated.
“The country needs a consistent and slow rainfall which will help to replenish soil moisture and thereafter support planting and growing of the crop,” he said.
Agbiz nonetheless remains positive of sufficient rains.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) forecast for the next two weeks shows prospects of rainfall across the crop-growing areas of South Africa.
Overall, SAWs has projected above-normal rainfall in the central and eastern regions between November 2019 and January 2020.
“As encouraging as this is, it comes with some level of uncertainty and hence it will be important to monitor the weather conditions over the coming weeks as that will influence farmers decisions to plant,” Sihlobo said.
According to the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, commercial producers intend to plant 2,519 million hectares of maize for 2020, which is 9,51 percent than last season.
In the case of sunflower seed, the expected area planted is estimated at 538 500 hectares, which is 4,49 percent more than last season.
The intended plantings of soybeans shows an increase of 2,05 percent to 745 500 hectares.
The expected plantings of groundnuts will increase by 139,4 percent to 48 000 hectares while 43 100 hectares of sorghum is expected, which is a drop of 14,65 percent.
Some 52 500 hectares of dry beans are expected, a decline of 11,47 percent.
“Sorghum and dry beans hectares could decline notably from the area planted in 2018/19 production season,” noted Absa Bank economists.
The preliminary area planted estimate for summer grains for 2020 will be released in January 2020.
Meanwhile, Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey data for the third quarter of 2019 indicate a 4,5 percent uptick in jobs created in the agricultural sector.
This comes as a surprise to analysts because the third quarter of each year is usually a quiet period on farms in most parts of South Africa.
The jobs gains were mainly in the livestock, horticulture, field crops as well as aquaculture subsector.
Sihlobo attributed this to the replanting in parts of the horticulture fields following a drought season that caused damage in the fields in provinces such as the Western and Eastern Cape.
Other provinces that showed job gains are KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
The Northern Cape, Free State, North West and Limpopo saw a reduction in agricultural employment.
Sihlobo said to ensure that the agriculture sector delivered to the promise of job creation a combination of factors were required.
“These include a boost in agricultural productivity, an improvement in the rural investment climate, expansion of export markets, promotion of labour-intensive agriculture subsectors, and expansion of area farmed where possible,” he said.
– CAJ News