- After maize, wheat is the second most produced food worldwide (rice is third).
- Wheat is mainly used for human consumption. It can also be used as seed and as animal feed.
- The grain is a staple food from which bread, biscuits, cake, cereal, pasta, noodles and couscous can be made. It is used for fermentation to make beer, alcohol and vodka (its alcohol can also be used for biofuel).
- Other non-food uses include the production of absorbing agents for disposable diapers, cosmetics, adhesives and industrial uses such as starch on coatings.
- The straw can be used as fodder for livestock or as a construction material for roofing thatch. To a limited extent, wheat is planted as a forage crop.
Source: A Profile of the Wheat Market Value Chain (see "Websites & publications" heading)
International business environment
- China, EU, India, Russia and the USA are the top producers of wheat (USDA, 2023).
The top exporters of wheat, flour and products are the Russia, EU, Australia, Canada and USA (USDA, 2023). The top importers are China, Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and Algeria (USDA, 2023).
- South Africa remains the largest wheat producer in Sub-Saharan Africa after Ethiopia.
- Circulars on the global environment by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can be read at https://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/circulars/grain.pdf
- The annual Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline places wheat farming in South Africa in the global context. Find the document at www.bfap.co.za.
- Find the Wheat Atlas at http://wheatatlas.org.
- The SADC Secretariat and German Development Corporation‘s Profiling of the Regional Agro-Processing Value Chains in the SADC Region (2019) includes a look at wheat.
South Africa: imports and exports
- South Africa imports around half of its wheat demand and so prices tend to trade at import parity levels: South African prices are affected by what is happening in the international market place, like the war in Ukraine (BFAP, 2023, 2022).
- South Africa also exports wheat to nearby countries in the Southern Africa region and acts as a conduit for grain imported from outside the region (USDA, 2020).
- The reference price that triggers the variable import tariff was dropped from 294 USD per tonne to 279 USD per tonne in mid-2017. Support for local producers is also lowered by the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union which allows a quota of 300 thousand tonnes that can be imported free of this duty from the EU.
Local business environment
Wheat is planted mainly between mid-April and mid-June in the winter rainfall area (Western Cape) and between mid-May and the end of July in the summer rainfall area (eastern Free State). Most of the country’s wheat is grown in the Western Cape (43.9%), and Free State (20.6%) (DALRRD, 2023).
At 566 000 hectares, the area under wheat production in 2022 reached its highest level since 2011. Wheat production totalled 2.1 million tonnes, 12% higher than the average of the preceding five years from 2017 to 2021. This remains well below harvests of more than 3 million tons in the late 1980s (BFAP, 2023).
The wheat marketing season in South Africa commences on 1 October and ends on 30 September the following year. In a bid to protect the local industry, tariffs on imported wheat apply (see “South Africa: imports and exports” under the previous heading).
Because imports make up half of South Africa’s wheat requirements, the price farmers get for their crop is tied to import parity (and so exchange rate and world price levels play a crucial role).
- The annual Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline covers wheat in its Winter Grains and Oilseeds chapter. Find the document at www.bfap.co.za.
- Read the latest issue of the Koring Fokus/Wheat focus magazine at www.sagis.org.za/koringfokus.html
- Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) and presentations may be found on the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) websites, www.sagis.org.za and www.dalrrd.gov.za.
- Previously the DALRRD Directorate Marketing published an annual Wheat Market Value Chain Profile on its web pages at www.old.dalrrd.gov.za. Check if these have resumed.
- Wheat crop reports can be found on the Southern Africa Grain Laboratory website, www.sagl.co.za.
- Find the Grading Regulations for wheat and requirements for grain exports at http://agbizgrain.co.za.
- Refer to the latest articles under the “Websites & publications” heading.
For the newcomer
Find details of the Wheat production guideline document available from DALRRD and other grower notes under the “Websites & publications” heading.
As a regular wheat importing country, South Africa and its wheat industry is fully integrated into the global wheat market which has become increasingly concentrated and sophisticated, and many variables need to be taken into consideration. Exchange rate fluctuations, for example, make it a challenge for even the most sophisticated farmers to plan effectively and to be profitable.
While transformation of the industry is important for its long-term sustainability in South Africa, this transformation has to happen in an economically viable way. It is almost certainly better to help the larger, more sophisticated emerging commercial farmers to enter the industry in a viable manner than smaller, primarily subsistence level farmers.
Source: adapted from a report commissioned by the Wheat Forum investigating the potential entry and successful participation of emerging black farmers into wheat production.
Agricultural Research Council’s Small Grains (ARC-SG) has a very active Farmer Support Programme, and they have many projects running with the emerging farmer in mind. It runs a three-day wheat production course, specifically for students and extension officers working with emerging farmers.
National strategy and government contact
- International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC) www.itac.org.za
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za
The Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP) from the last decade noted some points which still apply:
- Wheat has a low labour multiplier, and production costs are presently high.
- The main rationale for seeking to revive the wheat sector is to ensure less dependence on imports, which contributes to volatility in consumer prices and has hurt traditional wheat growing areas.
- At the time, wheat farmers employed around 28 000 people. Supporting this sector could see a further 8 000 employed.
- The number of wheat producers was estimated to be between 3 800 and 4 000, predominately white commercial farmers. There was space for transformation.
- The Western Cape is the country’s greatest wheat producer, yet a lot of this wheat is transported to Gauteng and beyond, and so transport costs detract from the profitability of this crop. Reducing bulk transport costs by progressively increasing use of rail was also essential. A further intervention would be to increase milling capacity in the Western Cape.
The South African Cultivar & Technology Agency NPC (SACTA) was established in 2016 to administer the breeding and technology levy and will make payments to the seed companies from funds collected by means of the levies. This is to encourage more cultivars and greater investment in the market.
Proponents believe producers will gain from the SACTA measures because yields will be higher. There will be more locally produced wheat. Higher volumes of local wheat production will lead to less imports and thus less tariff payments, a counter to increased food inflation. Visit www.sactalevy.co.za.
Training and research
- The Winter Cereal Trust is responsible for the allocation of funding and appraisal of relevant research projects in the winter grain industry. Since 1998, statutory levies on sales of winter cereal have been imposed to finance the Winter Cereal Trust.
- For an extensive list go to www.sagis.org.za – take the “List of Co-workers” and then “Wheat” menu options.
Websites and publications
Visit websites listed earlier on this page.
- The ARC-SG has the following publications: (i) Wheat Diseases in South Africa (ii) Field guide for the identification of wheat insects in South Africa (iii) Guidelines for the production of small grains in the summer rainfall region (iv) Guidelines for the production of small grains in the winter rainfall region. The Guidelines for the production of small grains in the summer rainfall region and Guideline for the production of small grains in the winter rainfall region are highly comprehensive and essential publications. Topics include management of wheat production (e.g. reaching target yields), soil tillage guidelines, cultivar choice guidelines, fertilization guidelines, and weed and insect control. For the above publications, visit www.arc.agric.za.
- Order online at www.arc.agric.za, or call 012 842 4017 for the following publication, available from the ARC Agricultural Engineering: Agro-processing of Cereal Crops Vol. 2 (Sorghum, wheat).
- CD Roms from the ARC-PHP (Plant Health and Protection) include: (i) Crop Pests, Vol. 4: Field Crops and Pastures Pastures (ii) Medically Important Spiders And Scorpions Of Southern Africa. Write to booksales [at] arc.agric.za or infopri [at] arc.agric.za.
- The AgriSETA Learner Guide Primary Agriculture “Harvesting agricultural crops” can be found at www.agriseta.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/116201_AG.pdf201_LG.pdf
- Find the Pannar Wheat Production Guide at www.pannar.com.
- Check whether the DALRRD‘s Directorate Marketing has resumed publishing the annual A Profile of the Wheat Market Value Chain on its web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za. Also available on this website are the Technical Manual: Karnal Bunt of Wheat and Wheat production guidelines.
- Find the wheat option at www.sagl.co.za, website of the Southern African Grain Laboratory (SAGL). Options cover national wheat crop and other reports.
- Watch “Nasie in Gesprek besoek die koringbedryf” (June 2018) on YouTube.
- Sihlobo W. 2023, September 26. “” Global and domestic wheat production dynamics and their implications for prices”. Agbiz. Available at www.agbiz.co.za/document/open/global-and-domestic-wheat-production-dynamics-and-their-implications-for-prices-8
- Sihlobo W. 2022, October 5. “What do global wheat production dynamics mean for SA?”. Agbiz. Available at www.agbiz.co.za/document/open/what-do-global-wheat-production-dynamics-mean-for-sa
- AFP. 2022, May 18. “This is why record wheat prices are a global worry”. Eye Witness News. Available at https://ewn.co.za/2022/05/18/this-is-why-record-wheat-prices-are-a-global-worry
- Ibukun Y. 2022, May 15. “Lender has $1 Billion plan to wean Africa off Russian wheat”. African Development Bank. Available at www.afdb.org/en/news-and-events/lender-has-1-billion-plan-wean-africa-russian-wheat-50087
- Sihlobo W. 2022, March 22. “Wheat in South Africa”. Agricultural Economics Today. Available at https://wandilesihlobo.com/2022/03/22/wheat-in-south-africa/
- Sihlobo W. 2021, April 29. “GM wheat would be welcome”. Business Day. Available at www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/letters/2021-04-29-letter-gm-wheat-would-be-welcome-in-sa
- Van der Walt J. 2020, December 29. “Good wheat year ahead, but climate uncertainty prevails”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/good-wheat-year-ahead-but-climate-uncertainty-prevails/
- Morojele E. & Burger E. 2020, December 17. “The basics of wheat”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-crop/the-basics-of-wheat/
- The DALRRD/NAMC TradeProbe 82 (August 2020) included a look at the effect of COVID-19 lockdown on wheat import parity prices in South Africa
- ANA Reporter. 2019, November 19. “Strategic partnership yields 3,000 tonnes wheat harvest for small-scale North West farmers”. Business Report. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/strategic-partnership-yields-3000-tonnes-wheat-harvest-for-small-scale-north-west-farmers-37452023
- Van Burick N. 2019, October 29. “Derde swak seisoen vir koringboere in vyf jaar”[Third weak season for wheat farmers in five years]. Landbouweekblad. Available at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Nuus/derde-swak-seisoen-vir-koringboere-in-vyf-jaar-20191029
- Phillips L. 2019, August 12. “Expert tips to get the most from irrigated wheat”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/expert-tips-to-get-the-most-from-irrigated-wheat/
- Sihlobo, W. 2018, October 17. “The problem with being a net importer of wheat” [A look at the African situation resulting from the continent not growing its own wheat] Fin24. Available at www.fin24.com/Opinion/the-problem-with-being-a-net-importer-of-wheat-20181017
- Gouws, A. 2018, April 18. “South African wheat production under the spotlight”. Bizcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/358/176072.html
A Wheat Museum – “one of the only three of its kind in the world where the history of wheat is depicted” – can be visited in Morreesburg (Western Cape). Call 022 433 1093 or take a look at www.moorreesburgtourism.co.za/wheat-industry-museum/.
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