SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa, the continent’s biggest maize producer, might reap the largest harvest of the grain in 36 years as rains improved yields and boosted the crop’s size by 83 percent from last year, the Crop Estimates Committee said.

Growers will probably produce 14.3 million tons of maize in the season that ends in April, said Lusani Ndou, a senior statistician at the Pretoria-based committee.

That would be the largest crop since 1981, and compares with the committee’s 13.92 million-ton forecast on February 28, which was the same as the median prediction by four analysts in a March 23 survey.

“Favourable production conditions led to improved yields,” Ndou said on Tuesday.

Rainfall recorded in January and February was more than double the average for the first two months of the year countrywide, according to the South African Weather Service.

The improved conditions have given relief to farmers after the worst drought since records began in 1904 decimated crops, reducing domestic maize output to a nine-year low last season.

The committee maintained its forecast for the area sowed at 2.63 million hectares. The country will probably produce 8.5 million tons of the white variety, and 5.8 million tons of yellow maize this season.

The body decreased its prediction for sunflower-seed output this year by 3.5 percent to 896 060 tons, while the forecast for soy beans was raised 8.6 percent to 1.2 million tons.

The estimate for sorghum production was increased by 8.9 percent to 153 480 tons. It reduced the projection for groundnut output 1.8 percent to 86 600 tons, while it lifted the expectations for the dry bean crop by 1.5 percent to 65 275 tons.