Possible drought looming

Farmers in South Africa’s summer rainfall area were recently warned not to underestimate the unpredictable rainy season ahead.

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“Don’t change your production methods and don’t overestimate how much you can plant,” said Ernst Janovsky, head of Absa Agribusiness. Speaking at the AMT Agriculture Outlook conference in Pretoria, Janovsky told delegates that it would be a difficult planting season as the rainfall was erratic. Johan van den Berg, manager of specialised crop insurance at Santam Agri, said weather patterns were too variable for accurate predictions, but indications were that farmers would receive below-average rainfall in the coming season.

“El Niño should have set in by the end of the year, resulting in a dry growing season, especially in the central and western parts of the country. But the severity will depend on how strongly El Niño develops,” he said. If September to November were wet, this would be a good sign that El Niño would develop, giving an 80% chance of a drought. “There is a very high risk the maize yield will deviate from the normalised average if this happens,” he said. Van den Berg said farmers must look at production potential when planting and not chase after high prices, or they could run into problems.