SA maize harvest hangs in the balance

With an expected midsummer drought around the corner, rainfall during the next two to three weeks could determine the success of the next South African maize harvest, agro-meteorologist Johan van den Berg from Envirovision in Bloemfontein said on Monday.

Van den Berg said South Africa’s maize harvest was of critical importance to the starvation-struck Southern African region, with South Africa producing the largest annual maize harvest on the continent.

With drought and political instability plaguing country’s north of South Africa and world supplies at a four-year-low, next year’s local harvest should be of even greater importance.

According to Van den Berg the current development of El Nino — the meteorological phenomenon spelling drier conditions for Southern Africa’s summer rainfall regions — might have a stronger influence than initially expected.

Current rainfall and planting forecasts indicated an expected South African maize harvest of around 8,7-million tons for next year, provided that producers planted a 10% larger area than last season. The expected harvest was still eight percent below the

previous forecast that was made at the end of September, Van den Berg said.

”A somewhat stronger El Nino has developed, which will probably have a negative effect on rainfall in especially December and January. Rainfall prospects are normal to somewhat below normal for November, and again below-normal for March 2003. Seasonal rainfall

prospects for the rest of Southern Africa are also below normal,” Van den Berg said.

However, prospects over the short term were more favourable, with rainfall expected over the entire South African maize-producing area from this week. The quantity as well as distribution of the rain over the next two to three weeks should determine to a large extent next year’s harvest, Van den Berg said.

Favourable sub-soil moisture conditions as a result of one of the wettest pre-summer seasons in years, however, meant that farmers would most likely be able to plant as expected even if the rainfall over the next few weeks fell short.

Larger areas to be planted under irrigation, a consequence of this year’s high maize prices, should also balance climatic losses in the national crop, Van den Berg said. – Sapa

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