Summer Crops in South Africa

© Louise Brodie
Sweet corn has a much higher sugar content than ordinary maize.

The most important summer crops are maize, soybeans, sunflower seed, groundnuts and sorghum.

Maize

©Louise Brodie
Maize is a dietary staple and primary energy source in animal feed.
Maize is one of the most important summer crops produced in South Africa, since white maize is one of our main dietary staples and yellow maize is the primary energy source in feed rations used for poultry and dairy production.

Under normal climatic conditions, more than enough maize is produced to meet the local demand and surpluses are exported to other African countries, such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Angola, as well as other countries, such as Japan, Iran, Kenya and Venezuela.

Most of South Africa’s maize is produced in the summer rainfall area, with the Free State usually accounting for half of the total volumes produced, depending on climatic and market conditions, followed by the North West and Mpumalanga. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal also produce substantial volumes.

Soybeans

©Courtesy of National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff. Des Moines, IA USA
Most of South Africa's soy beans are produced in the Free State and Mpumalanga.
South Africa imports vast volumes of soybean cake each year to meet the growing demand for animal feed, which has been sparked by the growing demand for high protein food from specifically the country’s middle class.

Production has increased by an average of 15% and 20% per year between 2009 and 2019 in response to significant investments in the domestic soybean crushing capacity, according to the Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy, and is expected to continue expanding by 2,9% per year to reach 962 thousand hectares by 2027.

Small volumes are produced across the country, with the bulk coming from the Free State and Mpumalanga in the summer rainfall area.

Sunflower Seed

©Louise Brodie
Sunflowers are primarily produced in the summer rainfall region.
Sunflowers are one of South Africa’s main edible oil sources, while the oil cake is used as a protein source in livestock rations. Grain SA describes it as an excellent rotation crop, with the ability to grow on relatively marginal soils and withstand early frost. It also has a shorter growing season than maize, so can be planted a little later when necessary during poor climatic conditions.

It is primarily cultivated in the summer rainfall area, with the biggest volumes coming from the Free State, followed by the North West and Limpopo. Hardly any sunflowers are produced in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Groundnuts

South Africa is a net exporter of ground nuts, but still annually imports just as much as we export. The oil made from groundnuts (peanuts) can be used for cooking, to make peanut butter or cleansing products, while the oil cake is used in animal feed, fertilisers, antibiotics or to make glue.

Groundnuts are an important source of nutrition in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. It is primarily produced in the western regions of the summer rainfall area, with most of the production coming from the Free State and North West.

More than three-quarters of production is on dry land because of the high cost of irrigation. Small volumes are also produced in the Northern Cape and Limpopo.

Sorghum

©Grain SA
Most of South Africa’s sorghum is produced in Limpopo.
Rising temperatures have sparked renewed interest in Sorghum production, because of this crop’s hardiness, drought resistance and low water requirement in comparison with maize. Sorghum has many uses as food and beverages, with very similar nutritional benefits as other grains.

Most of South Africa’s sorghum is produced in the summer rainfall area, with Limpopo accounting for about half of the total area under production. Large volumes are also produced in the North West, Free State and Mpumalanga.

Dry beans

South Africa does not produce enough dry beans to meet local demand. Large quantities are therefore imported from especially China each year. These legumes are not only an excellent source of protein and fibre and therefore seen as a perfect substitute for meat, but a great rotation crop that helps farmers to improve soil health and diversify production and market risks.

Dry beans are produced across the country, with the bulk coming from the Free State, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the summer rainfall area.

By Glenneis Kriel