South African White Corn Rises to 17-Year High on Supply Concern

Jan 02, 2014 5:43 am ET

Jan. 2 (Bloomberg) -- South African white corn rallied to the highest level in at least 17 years on concern that the nation, which is the continent’s biggest producer, will have insufficient supplies, according to BVG (Pty) Ltd.

The contract for March delivery surged by the 80-rand ($8) limit, climbing 2.8 percent to 2,893 rand a metric ton by the noon close on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg. That’s the highest level since at least August 1996, when Bloomberg started compiling the data. Prices climbed 32 percent last year.

South Africa’s harvest of the white variety was the smallest since 2007 last year, dropping 20 percent from 2012, after the country’s main growing regions didn’t receive sufficient rain for crops to grow during the planting period, the Crop Estimates Committee said in November. Grain SA, the biggest representative of commercial farmers in the nation, on Nov. 29 said white corn, known as maize, may surge as much as 27 percent if the drought-stricken North West province doesn’t get more rain to enable farmers to plant.

“South Africa will basically be running out of maize by end-March,” Brink van Wyk, a trader at Pretoria-based BVG, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Prices can easily go higher, depending on how difficult it is to secure stocks.”

Planting Season

The country’s farmers plant the crop in the summer months of October to December and reap their harvest from April to June. Meal made from white corn is one of the nation’s staple foods while the yellow variety is used as animal feed.

“Tightness in supply” is the main reason for the rise in prices, Andrew Fletcher, an independent trader in Kroonstad in the Free State province, said by phone. “We’re effectively going to an import parity price,” he said, referring to the cost local customers would pay for buying the commodity outside the country and transporting it to the nation. Parity for corn from the U.S. was 3,173 rand a ton on Dec. 12, according to the South African Grain Information Service’s website.

The white-corn harvest declined to 5.5 million tons last year, the government’s Crop Estimates Committee said. The group releases its first forecast for 2014 output on Feb. 27. The area farmers planted with yellow corn this season probably fell 4 percent to 1.55 million hectares (3.8 million acres) from a year earlier, the committee said on Oct. 24.

--Editors: Ana Monteiro, Dan Weeks