Plenty of mealies this year

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

Farmers are about to harvest around double last year's 6million tons of maize in a welcome counter to the escalating world food crisis.

Good rainfall has led to an early bumper crop, seed-to-mill-door agricultural services provider Afgri said in its results yesterday.

But the industry warned that while supplies were strong, there would be no significant price bonus for consumers because of soaring input costs.

While farmers will enjoy a profitable harvest this year with maize prices around R1800 a ton, Afgri estimates soaring prices of fertilizer, seed and diesel have pushed the production cost of next year's harvest to around R6000 a hectare.

This means maize prices of more than R2000 a ton will be required next year for farmers to recoup their input costs in the coming planting season.

Afgri said its seed sales had nearly doubled, so farmers appeared to be confident the US government's biofuel from corn drive would keep prices and demand high.

The National Crop Estimates Committee is scheduled to publish its latest estimate today.

Its figures have tended to be lower than maize eventually delivered to silos and mills.

But Afgri gets clear picture of how farmers are doing by supplying them with everything from finance to John Deere tractors.

Jeff Wright, Afgri's managing director, said: "The country actually lost an entire year's crop if one tallies the total crop for the last two years."

Though this year's crop is unlikely to beat past records of more than 14million tons, yields are likely to bounce back to about 4,5 tons a hectare after last year's drought knocked them down to 2,7 tons.

Afgri expects its grain silo levels to return to more than 80percent after sinking to 58percent last year, creating a food security buffer for the country.

Amidst soaring food inflation, chicken prices have dropped about a R1 since January to R10,40 a kilogram, Wright said.