Seedco sells 56.5% more wheat seed than last year, but harvest outlook still grainy

Wheat production at Arda Jotsholo (picture by Nkosizile Ndlovu)

Seedco, the country’s largest seed producer, says it sold 56.5% more wheat seed in the three months to June than it did over the same period last year, as irrigation and power supply improved.

In a trade update, Seedco said total sales volumes were up 45.4% in the quarter. Wheat seed made up 91% of that seed, while barley made up 8.1% of the total sales volumes during the period under review.

“Wheat seed sales volumes were 56.5% higher than the prior year on the back of improved irrigation capacity which benefited from rising water levels and better electricity supply. In addition, the government’s commitment to reduce imports by supporting local production of the crop contributed to the positive sales performance,” Seedco says.

Power cuts last year slashed wheat output by 62% to just 60,000 tonnes. This year, Zimbabwe had set an ambitious target to put 80 000 hectares under wheat this year, which would have yielded a harvest of over 400 000 tonnes, surplus to the country’s annual consumption.

However, the country only planted 42 000ha, according to Agriculture Secretary John Basera, although this is still higher than the 24,184ha planted in 2019.

Zimbabwe spends about US$12 million to import 30 000 tonnes of wheat every month, according to central bank.

While wheat seed rose, sales volumes of Seedco’s barley seed fell 20.3% compared to the previous year as the major customer, the country’s biggest brewer Delta, cut back its seed uptake for malt production in response to reduced beer consumption. Delta recently reported an 18% drop in lager beer volumes in the three months to June as the economy and the COVID-19 lockdowns hit consumption.

Seedco says COVID-19 makes it hard to project the future.

“In light of the prevailing economic challenges in Zimbabwe which are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that is also ravaging the Group’s other regional markets, the outlook is difficult to predict.”