February 25, 2016 / 1:37 PM / in 3 years

South Africa maize crop seen down 27 pct to 7.255 mln T on drought

A farmer inspects his maize field in Hoopstad, a maize-producing district in the Free State province, South Africa, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will likely harvest 7.255 million tonnes of maize in 2016, 27 percent less than the 9.95 million tonnes reaped last year because of a scorching drought and late plantings, a government agency said on Thursday.

The forecast harvest, which the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) said would be the smallest crop since 2007, was 5.6 higher than market expectations of 6.87 million tonnes, according to a Reuters’ poll of traders.

It was 2.5 percent lower than the CEC’s previous estimate of 7.44 million tonnes. The crop will comprise an estimated 3.195 million tonnes of white maize and almost 4.1 million tonnes of yellow, the CEC said in its second 2016 maize forecast.

Domestic maize prices have been scaling all-time peaks as drought concerns have mounted after South Africa last year recorded its lowest rainfall levels since records began in 1904.

Late rains have brought some hope to parts of the maize belt but much of the crop was planted months later than usual so yields are expected to be poor.

The situation is especially worrying for the white variety of maize, which is the staple source of calories for many households and is not widely grown outside of the region. Yellow maize, used for livestock, can be easily sourced elsewhere.

An El Nino weather pattern is forecast to keep much of the maize belt hot and dry until the end of the growing season in April and record-high temperatures were posted in many parts of South Africa in January.

South African maize farmers are also estimated to have planted 1.965 million hectares for the 2016 season, down 26 percent from the 2.65 million hectares they seeded last year, the CEC said.

The CEC also gave its final estimate for the 2015 winter wheat crop, which it pegged at 1.457 million tonnes, down 16.7 percent from 2014 and the smallest harvest since 2010.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard and Zandi Shabalala

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