Oilseed planted area and production in South Africa are set to reach historic highs in the 2023/24 marketing year, according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Planted area and oilseed production are expected to reach 1.8M ha and 3.6M tonnes respectively, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) 17 April report.

“South Africa has experienced an upsurge in oilseed plantings over the past 20 years with a near nine-fold expansion in soyabean area. The USDA foresees that the positive trend in soyabean plantings will continue in marketing year 2023/24,” the report said.

The surge in soyabean planted area has been driven by farmers’ increasing use of soyabeans as a rotational crop with corn and growing local demand for soyabeans through extensive investments in oilseed processing plants, according to the report.

Sunflower planting was expected to increase in the 2023/24 marketing year and – assuming a three- year average yield and normal weather conditions – South Africa could produce a sunflowerseed crop of about 810,000 tonnes in the period, the USDA said.

Historically, the bulk of soyabeans and sunflowerseeds produced in South Africa were crushed locally to produce edible oil for human consumption and protein meal for inclusion in animal feed.

However, South Africa started to export soyabeans in the 2021/22 marketing year as local production of oilseeds exceeded processing capacity, the USDA said.

South Africa’s soyabean exports reached a record level of 282,342 tonnes in the 2021/22 marketing year, with Malaysia (121,628 tonnes), Mozambique (61,720 tonnes) and Thailand (52,440 tonnes) the major markets. At the end of 2022, South Africa also completed export protocols to China, opening the market for exports to the world’s largest soyabean market, the report said.

With local crushing close to reaching capacity and domestic demand stagnating, South Africa’s exports of oilseeds could reach a record high of 800,000 tonnes – 750,000 tonnes of soyabeans and 50,000 tonnes of sunflowerseeds – in 2023/24, the report said.

With South Africa currently facing unprecedented power shortages, high energy costs, inflation, and rising interest rates, these challenges are likely to delay significant investment in the processing sector, according to the report.