Farmer Focus: Continuing South African drought sees prices rise

In the five weeks since my last piece we have had only two rain showers here – one was 8mm and the other 6mm.

That little bit didn’t go very far, with all the heat and wind that we have been experiencing.

Typically our summer-crop sowing window is from 20 October to the end of November.

We are well within that seeding window and I am still confident of planting this season – even if November has to last until Christmas.

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

South Africa is largely an arid country, with only 12% being arable. We also have a relatively large population.

We do not produce enough soya beans for the animal feed industry, which is mainly chickens, and have to import oil cake.

With regard to maize, some years we produce too much and have to export a bit; in other years we import if there is a deficit.

As a result, the maize price fluctuates between import and export parities, depending on the state of the harvest or potential harvest.

We farm in a free market with very little interference or assistance from the state. Grains are traded on the South African Futures Exchange, SAFEX.

Every day we get a new price based on recent information. Lately there have been two main factors influencing our grain price – our depreciating currency and the drought, both of which are causing the price to rise.

This free market has a double edge, though. While things are good, one must plan wisely and make provision for when things may not be so good, because there is no state safety net.

So while many parts of the country are being declared disaster areas because of the drought, there will be no financial assistance for farmers: we are on our own.

I am not complaining. We have survived many natural disasters in the past and I am quietly confident that we will have a good season this year.

In the meantime, we simply have to wait for rain.

Bruce Shepherd farms in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He plants 320ha rain-fed summer crops. He also runs 2,200 weaner oxen on pastures, finishing them in a feedlot with maize grown on the farm.