Farming - []

Drought-hit deciduous fruit farmers in the Western Cape, which produces more than 50% of SA’s agricultural exports, are expecting a further decrease in production, exports and foreign earnings and job opportunities.

Drought threatens to decimate the province’s agricultural sector which could lead to thousands of job losses.

Concerns have been raised that this will lead to fruit and other agricultural produce shortages and a sharp increase in prices.

In June, deciduous fruit industry body Hortgro said drought had slashed apple and pear exports by 9% and 6%.

Hortgro’s Jacques du Preez said at the weekend deciduous fruit farmers were considering contingency plans.

“It has been one of the driest winters in recent history, with unprecedented low dam levels and pressure on the water infrastructure servicing Cape Town and other municipal areas in the region,” Du Preez said.

Fruit farmers, who rely on irrigation water to produce  their crops, were anxiously waiting for the rains to fill up their dams.

Hortgro recently presented an irrigation seminar to equip fruit producers with tools and strategies to mitigate the effects of the drought as best as possible, he said.

“In the end, the allocation of water will be an economical decision with the most productive long-term crops getting the advantage over lower-yielding orchards or short-term crops like onions and potatoes.”

“Fruit producers, however, are resilient and have been using technology … in managing their water, irrigation systems and orchards. Water has always been a limited and limiting resource — the past seasons and this coming season will continue to hone growers’ skills to make every drop count.

“The flipside of drought for farmers is that the quality of fruit under water-scarce conditions is usually good,” Du Preez said.