A Drastic Fall of South African Maize (Corn) Prices.

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In the South African grain markets, the fourth quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 were largely dominated by high (white and yellow) maize prices, and there were steaming worries of rising food prices. On the 11th of March, yellow maize prices were in all time high of R3 850/ton; at the same time white maize reached R3 765/ton. However, from April 2014, the situation turned around; on the 15th of May Safex yellow maize traded around R2 072/ton and white maize traded around R2 089/ton.

These price hikes were mainly driven by increasing demand in the world market, and tight stocks in the domestic market. The leading importer in 2013/14 white maize was Zimbabwe with quantity at 246 692 tons, followed by Mexico at 190 097 tons, the rest mainly went to the BLNS countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland), Angola, Mozambique and Cameroon. For 2013/14 yellow maize, Japan was the leading importer with quantity at 596 315 tons, followed by Taiwan at 168 680 tons, the rest went to the BLNS countries, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Cameroon, South Korea, Madagascar, North Korea and Nigeria.

Some producers might have hoped that the high maize prices were going to last for a prolonged period, but the early deliveries/harvest pressure have significantly decreased the domestic prices. There is also a weak demand in the international markets, especially for white maize. The largest importer of the previous season “Mexico” is reported to be having a favourable producing season, hence expecting an increase on domestic white maize production. This will mean there are limited chances that South African 2014/15 white maize will reach the Mexican market.

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Most African countries such as Malawi and Zambia a said to be having favourable 2014/15 production season, with production expected to reach 3.9 million tons and 4 million tons, respectively. Malawi is having 1 million tons for export market, which might serve the rumoured expected 2 million tons demand from Kenya. Zambian 2014/15 maize production is mainly driven by increasing fertilizer subsidies by their government, hence an expected significant increase of 700 000 tons. This significant increase in Zambian maize production might pose a strong competition to the Zimbabwean market.

According to the Crop Estimate Committee, South African 2014/15 maize production is also expected to reach 13 million tons, with white maize expected to be at 7 million and yellow maize being around 6 million tons. This significant increase in production is also among the factors that are currently keeping maize prices on the low levels.

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Furthermore, in the United States maize production is expected to reach 13.9 billion bushels, up slightly from the 2013/14 record with higher expected yields more than offsetting the year to year reduction in planted area. On a global view, maize production for 2014/15 is expected to reach 979.1 million tons, which almost unchanged from 2013/14’s production. Expected decreases for Ukraine, Brazil and India are mostly offset by increases for China, Argentina, Russia, and Mexico.

For the rest of the year, South African maize prices might continue to trade at low levels. Good planting progress in the United State, expected large domestic crop, domestic harvest pressure will continue to suppress the prices.

However, even though this might be putting a strain on South African farmers, it is good news for the consumers. Stats SA reported in April that Agricultural commodities’ price inflation has dipped to 8.0% year on year from 13.3%, owing to a bumper maize crop; with the cereals and other crops price inflation rate falling to 9.7% year on year from 26.5% year on year in March. This means that in a month or two (leg effect), South African consumers will start to see low prices of grain related products on their retail shelves. Furthermore, Grain South Africa’s Supply and Demand figures show that the country still has more than 1.7 million tons of maize for export market. So, given the weak demand on the traditional South African export market, this is going to continue suppressing prices for a prolonged period.

 

1236455_10201166193989847_169122925_n  Wandile Sihlobo is a South African Economist; his main interests are Agribusiness, International Trade and Public Economics    

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