The dry and warm weather conditions experienced in the Western Cape since the end of August have taken a toll on winter crops and, given the significance of the province, the impact is evident at a national level.

Lowering of production forecasts

Figures containing the latest projections from South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) show that the country’s 2019/20 wheat, barley and canola production forecasts were lowered by 6, 3 and 14% from last month, to 1,81 million tons, 389 260 tons and 88 800 tons, respectively.

Aside from the Western Cape, harvest expectations for most other provinces where winter crops are produced, are stable compared to levels seen in August.

In the case of wheat and barley, the current harvest expectations are still well above the five-year average. Canola is down notably, in part because of a reduction in area planted (Figure 1). Weather conditions in the province have not improved and there is now a greater risk of further crop damage in areas around the Swartland region, where wheat is currently pollinated – a growth stage that requires moisture.

Further downward revision

Other major winter crop-producing provinces, such as the Northern Cape, Free State and Limpopo, are mainly under irrigation. They can therefore withstand harsh conditions as dams are currently at levels above 50%.

Be that as it may, the Western Cape is a major producer, accounting for 61% of area plantings in winter wheat and nearly all canola, which means that the persistence of unfavourable weather conditions could have a national impact.

Given the harsh weather conditions, there is a risk that the CEC might revise its winter crops production estimates down even further when the next update is released on 24 October. Weather forecasts until 12 October show prospects of light showers in the coastal areas of the province. This, however, might not have a meaningful impact on soil moisture.

Effect on domestic consumer food price inflation

In commodities such as wheat, the yield losses might not be compensated by an increase in prices for farmers. South Africa is a net importer of wheat – importing, on average, 1,6 million tons per annum – and prices generally track the import parity price level. Therefore, while lower output levels would be negative for farmers, the effects on domestic consumer food price inflation may be relatively contained. – Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz