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Choose your most profitable summer crop basket

October 2017

Another harvesting season is behind you and the planning for the production of your unique mix of summer crops during the 2017 to 2018 season should almost have been finalised by now.

Many lessons would have been learnt during the previous seasons production which was mainly characterised by good rainfalls in most production regions. Some farmers had to plant for the first time or replant early sunflower lands that had been sealed off by thunder showers and showed a poor germination percentage in early February.

Eastern Free State farmers were fortunate in some areas with a late frost being experienced, on the later plantings, with yields of 1 ton to 1,2 tons per hectare being harvested. Sunflowers planted on well prepared lands performed very well with average yields of 2 tons to 2,4 tons being reported. Some later plantings yielded below 0,5 of a ton a hectare.

Prices realised
The prices for most commodity crops started at a high at the start of the previous planting season in October 2016 and declined due to the excellent maize, sunflower and soya crops. The low maize spot prices of about R1 450/ton actually realised in the farmers pocket will force farmers to look at reducing their possible maize planting on low and medium potential soils.

Safex prices going forward indicate a sideways price movement for maize at a base price of R1 715/ton for white maize and R1 839 for yellow maize. Please remember to subtract the transport differential when working out your gross margins.

Sunflowers at R4 650 and soybeans at R4 787 have shown a price value increase in recent weeks. Remember to take off the transport differential for sunflowers. You can look up the transport differential on the Safex website for the location of your farm referenced to the Randfontein silo’s. Soybeans are quoted without a differential deduction required to determine the final ‘in pocket’ value realised.

The market will be influenced by good rains from September to November 2017. If conditions prior to the main planting season are good, the maize price going forward might make commercial production uneconomic but for the highest production potential soils.

Sunflowers or soybeans?
With the above factors in mind your mix of crops is mostly likely to result in a reduction of maize production and an increase in the area planted to sunflowers or soybeans. If you do not have experience with soybeans or your district is not suited to soybeans rather plant more sunflowers.

Soybeans really need to be planted during October and early November for good yields and payable returns. Various sunflower cultivars can be chosen to give a wider range of planting options to suit the rain and soil moisture conditions likely to be experienced on your farm in the coming season.

With a price of R4 787 for sunflowers and taking production cost into account, yield targets of 1,5 t/ha to 2 t/ha will become the norm for a payable crop.

Other factors to take into consideration
Every single production factor input should be costed and defined as accurately as possible. Make sure that your soil tests and analysis are up to date and that your planned fertilisation levels are adequate to produce a target of 2 t/ha. It is easy to be short of nitrogen in a good year. At least 50 kg of nitrogen/ha should be allowed for in sunflower production. Tailor your phosphate application exactly to the soil test.

Your lands must be well prepared if you are doing conventional tillage or correctly sprayed for proper weed control in ‘no till’ or conservation tillage systems. If your spraying equipment is not in good order or does not have the capacity to spray your summer crop area on time, consider getting in a contactor to do the work. The resistance to chemical control in many crops due to bad spraying practices over several years could be observed on farms last season. In a dry year, proper weed control can mean the difference between success and failure in producing profitable crops. A well-planned crop rotation programme can also help in reducing a potential uncontrollable weed problem in future.

It will be a critical year, in the light of the possible futures price for crop commodities, to choose the most profitable basket of summer crops to be planted for the 2017/2018 season.

Article submitted by a retired farmer.

Publication: October 2017

Section: Pula/Imvula