According to Bloomberg Business, South African potato prices have more than doubled in 2016 from a year earlier as the worst drought in more than a century cuts yields in growing regions, an industry body said.
Pieter van Zyl, an agricultural economist at Potatoes South Africa said that the national average price for a 10kg pocket of medium potatoes jumped to R63,30 in the week ended March 11 from last year’s average of R28,45.
“This is the highest on record, I don’t think it will go higher than what we see,” says Van Zyl.
The nation last year suffered its lowest rainfall since records began in 1904, cutting output of crops such as grains, wine grapes and peanuts. Farmers in potato-producing provinces such as Limpopo, which has the biggest output, the Free State and the North West need rain to fill boreholes and dams.
“There are no exceptions, all the regions have experienced a dry spell, not much rain or no rain at all and excessive heat conditions, that’s the reason prices are very high currently,” he said.
In 2015, the country’s potato farmers produced an average of 46 metric tons per hectare for both irrigated and rain-fed fields. For growers in the eastern Free State, who depend solely on rain, the lack thereof means yields will be two thirds lower than last year, when they produced 30 tons/ha.
“Farmers in the Free State are currently not even doing 10 tons/ ha, these guys are really struggling,” says Van Zyl.
The optimum planting time for farmers in Limpopo is from January to July, while those in the eastern Free State need to sow from August to November, Van Zyl said. In the first 10 days of March, Limpopo province received a total of 313mm of rain while 577mm fell in towns of the Free State region, data on the South African Weather Service show.