/ 5 February 2024

Decent summer grains and oilseed harvest likely for 2023-24

Harvesting Of Sunflowers For Feed Production
Sunflower seeds are loaded from a combine harvester onto a truck at the edge of the field. Area plantings for maize and sunflower seed are above the five-year average. (Photo by Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images)

South Africa could have yet another decent summer grains and oilseeds harvest in the 2023-24 production season. 

The data released this past week by the Crop Estimates Committee puts the preliminary area plantings for summer grains and oilseeds at 4.41 million hectares, up by 0.4% year-on-year (albeit down mildly from 4.48 million hectares of the intended area when the season started). 

This increase is not limited to a few crops but across most summer crops except for soybeans, where plantings possibly fell by 10% year-on-year to 1.04 million hectares (which is still well above the five-year average area of 867 240 hectares). 

The area plantings for other major grains, such as maize and sunflower seed, is also well above the five-year average. 

White maize plantings are forecast at 1.56 million hectares, up 2% year-on-year, with yellow maize planting at 1.08 million hectares, up 2%. This places the total commercial maize planting estimate at 2.64 million hectares, 2% more than the 2022-23 production season. 

If we consider a five-year average maize yield of 5.78 tonnes a hectare in an area of 2.64 million hectares, South Africa can have a maize harvest of 15.25 million tonnes. This crop would be well above South Africa’s five-year production of 14.95 million tonnes, although down 7% year-on-year. 

Notably, a maize harvest of this size against South Africa’s annual maize consumption of roughly 12 million tonnes implies that the country would remain a net exporter of maize. 

Similarly, applying a five-year average soybean yield of 2.09 tonnes a hectare on an area planning of 1.04 million hectares would lead to a possible harvest of 2.17 million tonnes. Although this would be 21% down year-on-year, it would be well above the five-year average harvest. Again, it would mean South Africa remains a net exporter of soybeans.

Sunflower seed area is forecast to recover notably to 613 200 hectares in the 2023-24 production season, up 10% year-on-year. With a five-year average yield of 1.37 tonnes a hectare, this area provides a possible harvest of 840 084 tonnes (up 16% year-on-year). 

The groundnuts area is 41 200 hectares (up 32% year-on-year), with sorghum at 39 600 hectares (up 17% year-on-year) and dry beans at 39 400 hectares (up 8% year-on-year). 

The weather has remained favourable since the start of the season, with widespread rainfall across most regions of South Africa, and weather prospects for the coming weeks look favourable. Thus, we remain optimistic that yields will probably reach the average levels. The one province that hasn’t received as many showers as the rest of the country is the North West. Still, the crop looks decent in that province. Wandile Sihlobo is chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa and author of A Country of Two Agricultures.