/ 22 January 2024

South Africa’s 2023 agricultural machinery sales show mixed performance

Tractor 1000x642
South Africa's agricultural machinery sales fell notably in February. The tractor sales were down 34% year-on-year. (Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images)

South Africa’s field crop harvest was excellent in the 2022-23 season. For example, the maize harvest amounted to 16.4 million, 6% higher than the 2021-22 season’s harvest and the second-largest harvest on record. Soybean harvest is at a record 2.8 million tonnes. The sugarcane crop was 18.5 million tonnes, up 3% year on year. Other field crops and fruit harvests were also decent in 2023.

Still, this excellent performance did not translate into overall robust agricultural machinery sales as it has been in the past. They paint a mixed picture in 2023. 

Tractors amounted to 8 380 units, down by 9% from 2022. The decline in tractor sales is unsurprising, because we expected the sales to cool off after a few years of excellent activity. Tractor sales in 2022 amounted to 9 181 units, up 17% year on year and the highest annual sales for the past 40 years.

Meanwhile, the number of combine harvesters sold was 505 units, up notably by 35% year on year. This follows an excellent performance of 373 units in 2022, up 38% year on year and the highest yearly sales figure since 1985. These strong combine harvester sales are primarily on the back of large grain and oilseed harvest.

There are several factors behind the slight decline in tractor sales. Chief among them is the lower replacement rate of older tractors, because the past three years saw increased new machinery sales. Moreover, the rising interest rates added pressure to farmers’ finances.

The relatively weaker rand exchange rates also negatively influenced the farmers’

machinery buying decisions.

Also worth noting is that although other input cost prices such as fertiliser and

agrochemicals have softened in 2023, the price levels were still well above long-

term levels, thus adding pressure on farmers’ finances.

Over the medium term, the sales will probably remain subdued despite the promising

agricultural season in 2023-24. The same factors underpinning the agricultural equipment market will likely prevail in the 2023-24 season.

Still, the agricultural conditions are excellent. The weather conditions have remained

reasonably favourable across South Africa, thus benefiting the crops. At the start of

the 2023-24 summer crop production season, farmers intended to plant 4.5 million

hectares of land, which is up 2% from the previous season.

Given the optimistic feedback about crop growing conditions from the Grain South

Africa survey, we believe that farmers met their expected planting area in most provinces. If there are any reductions in area, they will probably be in the white maize regions of the North West.

The Crop Estimates Committee will release its preliminary area planted estimate for summer grains 2024 at the end of January. This data will give us a better sense of the planted area and potential harvest size. The large combine harvester sales of 2023 will probably be put into good use in the 2023-24 season because the harvest could be ample as in the previous years.

Wandile Sihlobo is chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa and author of A Country of Two Agricultures