Despite weakening El Nino, agriculture suffers in Western Cape

Kaveel Singh, News24
8 June 2016
Cape Town – Despite signs that El Nino is weakening, the effect of late rains and warm temperatures are still being felt in the Western Cape, a leading agricultural organisation said on Wednesday.
Senior officials at Agri Western Cape said the current primary production period of winter grains and pastures could be compromised.
Carl Opperman, CEO of Agri Western Cape, said some of the current challenges included:
-ensuring enough water for humans and animals for the current season and the next;
-enough feed to sustain both small and commercial livestock producers during winter;
-potential crop losses and the loss of raw materials that the value chain needs to produce food;
-keeping primary producers, as well as companies that depend on primary producers, going amid economic pressure
-debts incurred for the new season together with 2015’s deferred debt.
Opperman said the drought had a ripple effect on the economy as a whole with the increase in food prices, food inflation increases and agricultural debt.
“The effect is enormous, especially in terms of job creation, job maintenance and to manage the morale of producers, farm workers and rural residents. Agri Western Cape and Afasa (African Farmers’ Association of South Africa) are in regular discussions with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and the Ministry and are part of a task team to manage the current situation.”
Cornie Swart, President of Agri Western Cape, said grain producers have incurred huge expenses to get crops in the ground.
“Our crops are suffering. Producers who have not planted yet, simply didn’t have enough capital. Last year’s bad harvest exhausted our capital,” he said.
He said the low rainfall so far this season was “tragic”.
“In two weeks we will be in the middle of winter. The current hot conditions are causing fruit trees to bloom before they could enter properly in a period of rest.
“If we get frost and [lose] the flowers, second-grade flowers will form that can lead to poor quality fruit. In the West Coast district where temperatures remain high, the vineyards also already started to bud,” he said.
According to Agri Western Cape a number of winter grain producers in the Western Coast district Swartland, Southern Cape and Central Karoo were concerned with the lack of rain. These areas also have concerns that livestock farmers fear a shortage of feed, Agri Western Cape said.
Drought conditions have plagued most of South Africa since early 2015 with most provinces declared disaster areas because of the lack of rain.