(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s wheat crop is set to climb 17 percent this year as rains eased drought conditions in the biggest growing province, prompting farmers to plant the cereal over a larger area.
Growers will probably reap 1.68 million metric tons in the 2016 season compared with 1.44 million tons last year, Marda Scheepers, a senior statistician for the Pretoria-based Crop Estimates Committee, said by phone Thursday. That’s more than the 1.48 million-ton median prediction by six analysts in a Bloomberg survey.
The forecast for a bigger crop “can be attributed to an increase in the area planted and improved conditions in the Western Cape,” Scheepers said.
While South Africa is the sub-Saharan region’s biggest producer of wheat after Ethiopia, it’s still a net importer of the grain, according to 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 May, driving up food prices. Rainfall in recent weeks means that the crop is in good condition, said Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at the nation’s Agricultural Business Chamber.
The committee raised its estimate for the area planted with wheat 2.4 percent to 498,150 hectares (1.2 million acres), higher than the 486,500-hectare median of six analysts’ estimates in the survey.
The canola harvest may be 9.7 percent bigger than last year at 102,000 tons as the committee cut its prediction for area planted by 3.5 percent to 68,000 hectares. South Africa may produce 271,885 tons of malting barley, 18 percent less than in 2015, while its area was increased to 88,685 hectares.
Corn output by the continent’s biggest producer may be 0.5 percent higher than predicted last month, Scheepers said. The committee increased its estimate for production of both white and yellow varieties this season to 7.3 million tons, exceeding the 7.26 million-ton median estimate of 11 analysts in a Bloomberg survey. This would still be 27 percent less than 2015’s harvest.
The committee raised the forecast for production of yellow corn, used mainly to feed animals, by 0.8 percent to 4.2 million tons. It maintained the prediction for the white type, used to make a staple food locally, at 3.1 million tons.
Following the drought, the country may need to import 3.8 million tons of corn this year, 1.1 million tons of which will be of the white type, according to Grain South Africa, the largest lobby for grain and oilseed farmers.
The forecast for sunflower-seed output was kept at 742,750 tons. Groundnut production may be 9.3 percent smaller at 26,550 tons. The estimate for dry beans was lowered 0.8 percent to 35,445 tons while that of sorghum was trimmed 7.3 percent to 82,000 tons.
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