South African maize planting area seen down 18 percent from last season

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African maize farmers are expected to plant 18 percent less of the staple crop this season due to dry and hot weather along the western part of the maize belt, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) is expected to forecast the planted area at 2.159 million hectares, down from 2.629 million hectares planted last season when favourable weather conditions boosted yields, according to an average estimate of seven traders and analysts polled by Reuters.

The range of total maize estimates was 1.910 million to 2.430 million hectares.

“The western regions of the country which largely produce white maize were unable to meet their planting intentions due to persistent dry and warm weather conditions,” said Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at the agricultural business chamber.

The average estimated from the poll pegs the crop at 1.148 million hectares of white maize, used for human consumption, and 1.012 million hectares of yellow maize used mainly in animal feed.

Yields in the North West and Free State provinces could also be impacted by hot and dry weather, analysts said.

“The intense heat wave will definitely impact negatively on yields if it does not rain more in the next few weeks as the crops head into a critical stage of development,” said Paul Makube, senior agricultural economist at FNB bank.

Concerns over a plantings and yields for the 2017/2018 season saw maize prices hit 11-month highs of 2,123.80 rand a tonne last week. The contract for delivery in May has since given up some of its gains and was around 1,933 rand on Friday.

Industry group Grain SA said farmers in the western part of maize belt have only planted 70 to 75 percent of the area they had intended because of drought during the best planting period.

The CEC will issue its preliminary forecast for the area planted for the 2017/18 maize growing season on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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