The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) has reported that the country’s agricultural sector performed “relatively well” during the first quarter of this year (1Q21), in comparison to the same period last year (1Q20). According to BFAP’s calculations, the agricultural sector of the economy grew in 1Q21 by 7.5% in real terms, year-on-year. The bureau is now projecting that South African agriculture will achieve full-year growth of 7.6% this year.
“At first glance [at Statistics South Africa’s seasonally adjusted and annualised gross domestic product (GDP) report for 1Q21] it looks as though agriculture, forestry and fisheries declined by 3.2% since the previous quarter, but a relative comparison between [1Q21] and [1Q20] removes the need for seasonal adjustments and provides an alternative, simpler picture of agriculture’s real performance in the past quarter,” stated BFAP in its Brief Report 'Perspectives on Agriculture’s Performance in Quarter 1 of 2021'. Statistics South Africa’s approach to recording economic performance has “limited” applicability to agriculture, “given the timing of delivery by various subsectors”.
The agricultural sector is subdivided into three subsectors, namely animal products, field crops and horticulture. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has compiled the gross production value (GPV) for each of these sectors. (GPV is calculated by multiplying price by quantity produced.) GPV provides an indication of the main forces behind the growth in agricultural GDP.
The field crop and horticulture subsectors grew particularly strongly in GPV terms in 1Q21, year-on-year. Field crop GPV was up 52% while horticulture grew by 11%. Animal products had a “decent” growth of 6%.
The largest contributor to the growth of field crops was maize, the GPV of which increased by 32% year-on-year, which was largely the result of increases in both production and prices. Producers delivered 33% more white maize in 1Q21 than in 1Q20, because a much earlier start in the planting of the 2021 crop allowed greater early deliveries. (This early start, plus good weather, underlies the predictions of a bumper summer crop this year.) The increase in the white maize price was 12%. In contrast, yellow maize prices jumped 26% year-on-year. Soybeans, oilseeds and sunflowers also recorded high early deliveries and high prices. Soybean deliveries increased by more than 100% and prices by 47%. Sunflower deliveries were more than 200% higher while prices rocketed 68%.
Regarding horticulture, deciduous fruit sales rose by 16%, following strong 2021 harvests. As for foreign trade, in volume terms apple exports were up 25%, pear exports by 5% and stone fruit exports by 54%. Table grape exports also grew “significantly”.
Concerning animal products, the GPV of pork increased by 26% while that for beef rose 9% and for sheep, 4%. Constrained supply supported high meat prices, with the price of pork and sheep both increasing by 30% and that of beef by 11%. In 1Q21 the number of cattle and sheep slaughtered declined by 2% and 6% respectively, year-on-year. The number of pigs slaughtered actually rose, although only by 1%.
“The flower industry also performed well, growing by 23% relative to the same quarter in 2020,” pointed out BFAP. “This industry has been hit hard by Covid-19 and it is good to see gross sales improve to levels higher than before the start of lockdown measures in South Africa.”