Wheat in South Africa at Risk From Drought That Parched Corn

A drought that has probably reduced South Africa’s corn crop for 2015 to the smallest in eight years is also putting at least half the country’s wheat harvest at risk, the largest grain farmers’ lobby said.

Farms in the Western Cape have had little or no rain since the start of the planting season in April and need showers before the end of May, Andries Theron, vice chairman of Grain SA, told reporters Thursday at an agricultural show in Bothaville, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Johannesburg. The province, whose wheat fields are rain-fed, produces about 50 percent of the nation’s harvest of the cereal, data from the Grain Information Service show.

“We started planting in dry soil,” he said. “Usually, our rainy season would start in the middle of April, but it didn’t. We’ve got a hectic season on hand.”

South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of white corn after Mexico, has had to import the yellow variety of the grain this year as the worst drought since 1992 destroyed crops in the two largest producing provinces. While the nation is the sub-Saharan region’s largest grower of wheat after Ethiopia, it is a net importer of the cereal and the region’s biggest buyer after Nigeria and Sudan, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows.

Wheat farmers planted the grain on on 476,570 hectares in 2014, the smallest area in more than 80 years and 76 percent below the 1989 peak, South African Grain Information Service data show. They will probably sow the cereal over 481,300 hectares in 2015, the Pretoria-based Crop Estimates Committee said in April. South Africa imports about 55 percent of the wheat it needs for food production.

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