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Commodity Intelligence Report
May 2, 2006

La Niña Delivers Wet and Cold Weather to South Africa's Corn

South Africa’s Maize Triangle received above-average rainfall during January, February, and March which followed typical La Niña patterns for the southern Africa region. In addition, March's temperatures were well below-average which reduced heat units and slowed crop development in the grain-filling stages.  However, drier and warmer weather during April have been beneficial for crop development as they mature. Crop forecasters are currently assessing if the above-average rainfall reduced potential yields because of nitrogen leaching and water-logging problems, or if cooler March temperatures reduced yields by not providing sufficient heat units for normal grain development. 

Currently, South African corn prices are nearly double the prices for this time last year due to a smaller crop output forecast and concerns that potential yields were reduced from nitrogen leaching, water-logging, and insufficient growing degree day heat units for grain development.  USDA, however, did not lower national yield and production forecasts from last month because adequate seasonal rainfall was received and more than 1.2 million hectares of cropland was left fallow, or set aside, from last year.  Historical analysis indicates that national yields tend to go up when countries set aside large portions of cropland because set-aside acreage tends to occur on marginal soils at both farm-level and provincial scales.

Below-Average Temperatures during March, 2006

USDA's Crop Forecast
USDA's April forecast for South Africa’s 2005/06 corn production is 7.5 million tons, unchanged from March but down 36 percent from last year’s crop. Corn area is forecast at 2.2 million hectares, unchanged from last month but down 31 percent from last year.  The large decrease in area from last year is attributed to low prices during most of 2005, high carry-over stocks at time of planting, and reduced credit from banks and cooperatives. The estimated yield of 3.41 tons per hectare is slightly above the 10-year trend of 3.22 tons per hectare but below last year's record yield of 3.63.

South Africa's National Crop Estimates Committee (NCEC) estimates total corn production at 6.23 million tons on 1.998 million hectares, with irrigated area comprising 130,000 hectares. USDA's area forecast is 10 percent higher than NCEC based on a random area-frame analysis of satellite imagery that indicates area may have been slightly under-estimated by NCEC this year.  Yields forecast by USDA are also higher than NCEC due to expectations that increased set-aside area will increase provincial yields.  Finally, relative-yield water balance models and MODIS/NDVI time series curves indicate that above-average seasonal rainfall should boost provincial yields above the 10-year trend yield of 3.22 tons per hectare.

South African farmers harvest the maize crop each year from April to early August, with June and July being the key harvest months.  A large majority of the crop is delivered to centralized silo storage bins from March to October and corn delivery statistics collected by South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) should help to confirm how accurate these different crop forecasts were in February and March. 

2006 Crop Assessment Tour
USDA/FAS analysts traveled throughout South Africa’s corn-belt from February 26 - March 6, 2006.  The survey team found large amounts of cropland left fallow, and late-planted crops were observed in the Northwest but these crops were in excellent condition due to good rainfall received during January and February.  Some crops showed signs of stress caused by water-logging and leaching of fertilizers, but most industry experts and farmers interviewed thought expected yields would be better than last year. No major pests or disease problems were observed, but Northern Leaf Blight was later reported in the northwestern Free State.

Below is the crop assessment route taken and several pictures showing field conditions.

2006 South Africa Crop Assessment Route

Late-planted corn did not have tassels in early March, but in good condition due to sufficient rainfall.

Field damaged from water-logging and fertilizer leaching caused by excessive rainfall.

Fields left fallow were recently plowed and probably waiting for winter wheat crop.

Many fallow fields have tall green weeds as shown in the foreground.

Related FAS Links:

2006 Crop Tour Photos

South Africa GAIN Report (April 2006)

Crop Explorer for Southern Africa (from the Crop Explorer Home page select Southern Africa)

MODIS Image Gallery for Southern Africa (from the Crop Explorer Home page click the MODIS Image Gallery link, then select Southern Africa)

MODIS (250-meter)/NDVI Time-Series Charts

PSD Online

For more information contact Curt Reynolds | | (202) 690-0134

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