Drought Cuts South Africa 2015 Wheat Crop 18% to Four-Year Low

  • Farmers could plant 481,850 hectares with the grain in 2016
  • Nation needs 2 million tons of wheat imports in 2016: chamber

South Africa’s wheat production fell to a four-year low in 2015 as the lowest rainfall in more than a century damaged the harvest.

Local farmers reaped 1.44 million metric tons, 18 percent less than in 2014, Marda Scheepers, a spokeswoman for the Pretoria-based Crop Estimates Liaison Committee, said by phone Thursday. This is the smallest harvest since 2011, data compiled by the South African Grain Information Service show.

“The ongoing dryness led to significant crop losses in key wheat-producing areas such as the Swartland in the Western Cape province," Wandile Sihlobo, head economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber, said by e-mail Wednesday. “All this has placed the country in a position where it’ll have to import about 2 million tons” in the year throughout Sept. 30, which would be the most since at least 1991, he said.

While South Africa is the sub-Saharan region’s biggest producer of the wheat after Ethiopia, it’s still a net importer of the grain, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The driest conditions since records started in 1904 have damaged crops and livestock and sent local wheat prices to the highest on record in January, driving up food prices. The government has declared disaster areas in several provinces of the country, the continent’s biggest corn and sugar grower.

Growers are expected to plant 481,850 hectares (1.19 million acres) of wheat in the 2016 season, the Crop Estimates Committee said in its first estimate for the period on April 26. That’s less than the 482,150 hectares sowed a year earlier.

The country’s canola crop dropped 23 percent to 93,000 tons from a year earlier, while malting-barley output increased 10 percent to 332,000 tons. Wheat for delivery in July fell 0.6 percent to 5,020 rand ($335) a ton on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg.

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