South Africa May Import Almost Half of Corn Needs on Drought

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  • Imports could reach as much as 5 million tons by 2017
  • Farmers miss deadline for planting as dry conditions persist

South Africa may need to import almost half of its domestic corn needs less than two years after being a net exporter as a drought exacerbated by the El Nino weather phenomenon disrupts the main producing areas, according to the largest growers’ association.

The country could import as much as 5 million metric tons for the marketing year through April 2017, Jannie de Villiers, chief executive officer of Grain SA, said by phone on Wednesday. Domestic demand for the current year is forecast at 10.5 million tons, the Grain and Oilseed Supply & Demand Estimates Committee said Nov. 27.

“We’re past the point where we should call this a disappointing crop,” De Villiers said. “This is now a disaster. We should start gearing ourselves to import 5 million tons.”

The worst drought since 1992 means that growers in the continent’s biggest corn producer will probably sow the smallest area with the grain since 2011, the government’s Crop Estimates Committee said on Oct. 27. Since then, many parts of South Africa have experienced record temperatures and little rain. The country was last a net importer of corn in the 2008 season.

In the year through April 2015, South Africa’s net corn exports reached 1.9 million tons. Reuters reported earlier that the current crop may fall to as little as 5 million tons. A crop that size would be the smallest since the 1995 marketing year, according to data on the South African Grain Information Service’s website.

Farmers in the corn-producing provinces of the Free State and North West have missed a deadline of Dec. 31 to plant because of the drought, according to De Villiers. The two regions accounted for 64 percent of the nation’s crop in 2014, the Crop Estimates Committee said.

The price of white corn, used to make a staple food known as pap, has more than doubled since the beginning of last year, while the yellow variety that’s mainly used as animal feed has climbed 63 percent.