February 26, 2019 / 10:36 AM / a year ago

South Africa's 2019 maize crop seen 20 pct lower after drought delays plantings

Electricity pylons of South Africa power utility Eskom are seen above a maize field in Mpumalanga province , north of Johannesburg, in this picture taken March 1,2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa is likely to harvest 20 percent less maize in 2019 compared with the previous season after drought conditions delayed plantings in some corn growing areas, a Reuters poll of five traders and market analysts showed on Tuesday.

The government’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC), which will provide its first production forecast for the 2019 crop on Wednesday, is seen pegging the harvest at 9.962 million tonnes, down from the 12.510 million tonnes harvested for the 2017/2018 season.

The 2019 harvest is expected to consist of 5.045 million tonnes of the food staple white maize and 4.917 million tonnes of yellow maize used mainly in animal feed.

The crop, which is expected to be slightly less than South Africa’s annual maize consumption of around 10 million tonnes, benefited from improved rainfall conditions after plantings were delayed particularly in the western part of the maize belt, analysts said.

“Although a large part of grains and oilseed hectares were planted outside of the optimal planting period, the recent rainfall in most parts of South Africa led to a widespread improvement in crop conditions,” Wandile Sihlobo, an economist with Agbiz, said.

White maize prices have come off highs reached last month on fears that yields would be hit by delayed plantings with the contract ending May closing down 1.65 percent to 2,760 rand ($199) by 0848 GMT on Tuesday.

“Follow up rains are critical to ensure decent yields, otherwise, the 2019 output might decrease to the drought levels of three years ago,” said FNB Senior Agricultural economist Paul Makuba.

($1 = 13.8600 rand)

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg, editing by Louise Heavens

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