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Agriculture on the up, despite challenges

AGRICULTURE in the Western Cape has enjoyed the “best winter rain season for years”, setting the sector on an excellent footing for successful crops in the months ahead, says Agri Western Cape CEO, Jannie Strydom.

In an uplifting interview with CBN, Strydom said morale amongst farmers in the province is high, thanks to “available water”, adding that there are numerous opportunities for growth in the province’s entire agriculture sector – especially if the limitations and challenges in the sector are addressed.

“Some of our farmers are coming out of a seven-year drought – and still suffering from the cost-squeeze effect, and the impact of legislation on them, but overall things are positive, thanks to the prospect of a good harvest for fruit and winter cereal production,” Strydom said.

“At the start of the season, not one of the dams was up to 80%, but now, most are full. Even the Kammanassie Dam in the Klein Karoo, which has not had water for seven years, is now 76% full.

“Water for irrigation is hugely important in the sector and the good rains have brought new life to some farming areas.

“For instance, Oudtshoorn, which is renowned for ostrich farming, but, additionally, its good soil promotes vegetable seed cultivation and lucerne, so long as there is water. Likewise, in Ladysmith, where they grow a lot of stone fruit, as well as wine grapes, the rains have been a real boost.”

Strydom added that the rains had led to a positive national production forecast from Grain SA, and that wheat production had increased by about 5000 hectares.

“The Western Cape produces a lot of winter cereals, which are cultivated mostly under dryland conditions and dependent on rain, as they are not irrigated.

“The province produces about 51% of the country’s wheat, so we are huge roleplayers.

“SA is a net importer of wheat, so the farmers saw the opportunity to produce more wheat in the Western Cape, although it’s a rotational crop, sharing the land with canola, barley and oats.

 “Last year we planted about 360 000 hectares of wheat; this year 365 000 hectares was planted. Production is forecast just below 1,1 million tons, a 19,3 percent increase, or close to 177 000 tons more wheat than expected.

“If we produce this 1,1 million tons, the national forecast is 2,1 million tons.”

Overcoming challenges creates employment opportunities

Strydom paid tribute to the “resilient, adaptable” roleplayers in Western Cape agriculture. “Our farmers are creative; they overcome every challenge they face. As the country’s most diverse agricultural province in terms of enterprises and commodities, if we can sort out the challenges, the agricultural sector could become a huge employer of unskilled labour.”

Opportunities for expansion include avocados, macadamias, blueberries and citrus, as well as enterprises, such as ostriches and rooibos tea, he said.

“The Western Cape Province is the largest agricultural exporter in the country. We export about 55% of all primary agricultural produce, which contributes about R74 billion to the GDP, so we are a substantial contributor to the economy, and a great earner of foreign currency given our exports, especially in deciduous fruits, wine and table grapes. There are numerous opportunities for growth if we can overcome challenges and limitations.”

Loadshedding, port congestion and labour legislation

“Loadshedding is a huge impediment to the agriculture sector as we are so reliant on irrigation and the commodities and enterprises that rely on electricity and irrigation are the most labour intensive, so loadshedding influences many activities on a farm.

“Perishable products rely completely on electricity for refrigeration, particularly exports, where the impact of loadshedding is huge.”

A second challenge, Strydom said, is infrastructure – particularly congestion at the Cape Town Port.

If the port is not operating at full capacity, delays from bottle necks have huge consequences.

Strydom said Agri Western Cape focuses on influencing policy to the advantage of the sector, which includes environmental, water and labour legislation.”

Strydom said the sector has seen a slight increase in employment opportunities, despite the tough national economic climate.

He said Agri Western Cape is privileged to have a provincial department of Agriculture that “really supports the sector.

“A conducive legislative environment that doesn’t negatively impact the agricultural sector will help farmers to be more resilient and effective in ensuring food security not only in our province but also in our country. I take my hat off to our farmers, who continue to produce food despite all these external challenges. I don’t think consumers always realise the conditions they work under.”

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