PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — Mostly due to an increase in soybean plantings, South Africa reached a 20-year high in the area planted with summer rainfall field crops, the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) said in a Feb. 19 report.

Farmers planted 4.1 million hectares of the crops in 2020-21. Summer rainfall field crops include corn, soybeans, sunflower, peanuts and sorghum. This is 6% higher than the 3.9 million hectares planted in the previous year.

The South African Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) estimates that farmers planted 2.8 million hectares to corn, 806,000 hectares to soybeans, 473,300 hectares to sunflower, 43,300 hectares to sorghum and 40,050 hectares to peanuts.

South Africa saw widespread rains during October and November 2020 in most of the summer rainfall producing areas. Along with favorable oilseed and corn prices, the rainfall created the perfect combination for opportunism in farming, the FAS said.

South Africa’s largest area planted with summer crops was in the 1966-67 marketing year, when 5.6 million hectares were planted, the FAS said. During that time, the market was regulated by the Maize Board, which was abolished in 1996.

This marketing year, farmers planted a record area of 806,000 hectares with soybeans, an increase of 14% from the previous marketing year, the FAS said.

“Twenty years ago, South African farmers planted a mere 134,000 hectares with soybeans,” the FAS said. “In the past decade, South Africa invested in expanding its soybean processing capacity to replace soybean meal imports. As a result, about 1.5 million tons of additional oilseed processing capacity has been added, bringing South Africa’s current total oilseed processing capacity to an estimated 2.5 million tons per annum.”

The demand-pull from the investments and farmers increasingly using soybeans in rotation with corn, caused soybean plantings by more than six-fold the past 20 years, the FAS said.