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February 28, 2011

Heavy rains, low prices to lead to lowest South African maize crop in four years

by Olivia Kumwenda

South Africa is expected to reap its lowest maize output in four years after lower prices last year discouraged farmers from sowing more and heavy rains this year damaged plantings, the government said on February 24.

Africa's biggest maize producer would harvest 11.044 million tonnes of the staple in the current 2010/11 season, compared with the 12.815 million tonnes harvested in the previous season.

The forecast by the CEC lag a traders' estimate of 11.53 million tonnes, according to a Reuters survey.

The crop would also be the lowest since the 7.125 million tonnes harvested in the 2006/07 season, a Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) spokeswoman said.

"At the time of the planting prices were low and the (heavy) rains have had an impact as well," the spokeswoman said.

South Africa harvested its biggest maize crop in three decades in the 2009/10 season, pushing prices lower.

South Africans consume 8-9 million tonnes of the staple each year, with the rest destined for export.

The agriculture minister said the country was working on exporting the surplus of about 4 million tonnes to the world's biggest emerging markets, but wanted to ensure food security in southern Africa first.

South Africa had to look for new export markets outside Africa after some of its traditional markets within the continent also recorded maize surpluses.

The CEC said the total maize area was forecast at 2.38 million hectares, from a preliminary area of 2.52 million.

The committee also lowered its estimate of the 2010 wheat crop to 1.465 million tonnes from 1.511 million.

This would be the country's lowest wheat output since the 1992 season harvest of 1.316 million tonnes, it said.

The committee blamed the decrease in wheat output on water damage in certain production areas which will lower yields.

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