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March 31, 2010

South Africa expects biggest maize harvest in 29 years

by Muchena Zigomo

South Africa expects to harvest its biggest maize crop in 29 years this year, boosted by good weather and higher plantings of the grain compared with previous years, the government has said.

Africa's biggest maize producer and a top global exporter forecast would reap 12.88 million tonnes of the staple in the current 2009/10 season -- 1.54 million tonnes short of the record harvest of 14.42 million tonnes in the 1981/82 season.

South Africans consume between 8-9 million tonnes of the staple each year, with the rest destined for the export market. The forecast by the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) beat traders' estimates of 12.81 million tonnes, and is likely to dampen maize futures prices, although the market will also take a cue from international prices, the rand and weather conditions.

It may also boost South African maize exports, which have so far reached 1.39 million tonnes since the start of the maize marketing season last May. The bulk of exports from Africa's biggest economy this year have gone to Kenya, which has been severely hit by a drought that has left a third of its population in need of food aid since last year.

Last week South Africa's white maize exports almost quadrupled to 51,139 tonnes, buoyed by a 38,651 tonnes sale to Kenya. South Africa said the total maize area was also forecast higher at 2.76 million hectares from a preliminary area of 2.63 million ha. based on fresh data.

"According to a lot of reports during the survey the condition of the crop is very good at this stage despite some patches of damage due to waterlogging and some areas where farmers re-planted their crops," committee member Rona Beukes said.

This year's crop, comprising an estimated 7.803 million tonnes of white maize and 5.073 million tonnes of yellow, would be about 6.86 percent higher than last year's harvest of 12.05 million tonnes, the CEC said. The traders had also based their estimates on the good weather prevailing across South Africa's main maize belt and the higher area cultivated under maize this year.

"That (CEC forecast) is quite accurate, based on what we've heard from farmers out there and on the weather as well as the higher area that they've released now," a trader said. "But traditionally the first forecast is usually a bit low compared to what the crop finally comes in at, so we'll probably have it higher by the end of the season."

The CEC also lowered its forecast for the country's 2009 wheat crop to 1.92 million tonnes from 1.95 million tonnes, while the area under wheat was also reduced from 647,500 hectares to 642,500 ha in the previous survey last month. The committee attributed the decrease in its production forecast to a drop in expected output in the main Western Cape growing region.

South Africa is the continent's third largest wheat producer after Egypt and Morocco.


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