Extremely dry weather conditions across South Africa’s barley production regions this season have resulted in plantings being delayed, according to Grain SA economist, Ikageng Maluleke.

She said the planting season had just started, and a major challenge for barley producers, who were mostly based in the Western Cape, was the drought conditions they had experienced in recent years.

“This creates serious problems with germination and can lead to poor quality when harvesting the barley. Weather is always a large risk [when trying] to reach malting quality standards,’’ Maluleke said.

“The current intentions to plant that was released by the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) show that the planned hectares are in line with previous years, [with] a small increase of roughly 10% to 23 500ha. But it is very early in the season to [speculate about the] volumes and quality that can be expected,” she said.

The ban on the sale of liquor, including beer, due to the lockdown to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, also posed a risk for the industry.

Aron Kole, managing director of FarmSol, an agricultural services company and a partner in the South African Breweries (SAB) farmer development programme, said in a statement that if the 500 smallholder farmers that were part of the SAB programme could not secure final offtake agreements for their crops, they would suffer severe financial losses.

Ralph Swart, who farms near Elim in the Western Cape, said in the statement that along with his two brothers, they were for now continuing operations as planned, which meant they would plant a total of 1 300ha to barley.

“We have not downscaled because we have fixed contracts, and SAB gives us certain privileges because we are emerging farmers. For example, we receive funding from SAB and are not penalised when we are unable to produce our full quota, or when we ‘over-produce’.”

He admitted, however, that many commercial farmers in the region had downscaled barley production in anticipation of the negative impact on demand.