The drought in the Western Cape is withering and stunting vegetation across this crop-producing region. Most of South Africa's wheat is produced in the Western Cape. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Cape Town - Western Cape dam levels have dropped to critical lows, sinking a further 1.4 percent this week.

The province has remained in the grip of the drought that devastated South Africa despite other provinces registering improved rainfalls.

FNB agricultural economist Paul Makube said on Wednesday dam levels in the Western Cape had now reached 25.7 percent, compared to 32.2 percent during the same period last year.

Makube said the prevailing dry conditions would be particularly devastating for beef and dairy producers. He said farmers could resort to culling and stock reduction which could result in elevated prices.

“While both the overall SA producers and consumer inflation are expected to moderate in the coming months, local trends may remain stubbornly high if the drought conditions persist,” said Makube.

“The agri-value chain may come under pressure and impede potential job growth in the sector. With that said, we remain hopeful that much-needed rains will come in the coming month.”

According to the City of Cape Town, dam levels this week had declined by 1 percent from a week ago.

The city said it was in the process of bringing forward several emergency supply schemes including tapping the Table Mountain Group Aquifer, a small-scale desalination plant, intensifying pressure management and water demand management.

It said it had also activated a R120 million small-scale wastewater reuse plant at the Zandvliet water treatment works.

Read also: Drought: SA's dams could take five years to recover

Xanthea Limberg, the city’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, said : “We will progressively intensify water restrictions and will reduce water pressure further to lower consumption, which could in cases lead to intermittent supply over larger areas of the metro at the same time.”

VinPro, a non-profit organisation that represents wine farmers, said producers were hoping for better rains for the 2018 wine grape season that was coming soon.

VinPro managing director Rico Basson said although this year’s grape harvest was slightly down on the long-term production volume and of similar size as last year, the quality from this year’s harvest was expected to be above average.

“The economic growth forecast in key markets, exchange rate and price points remain key. There is a key focus on value growth and expansion in key markets to reinforce and strengthen brand South Africa.”

Jacques du Preez, general manager for trade and markets at Hortgro, said stone fruit growers were able to see the season through with innovative water management despite many of the production regions being placed under water restrictions from the middle to the end of the season. “From experience we have learnt that the drought definitely has a knock-on effect on next year’s crop.”

Du Preez added that the flip side of the drought was that the sugar content and quality of stone fruit this season were very good. “The deciduous fruit industry generates in excess of R10billion in sales annually of which a big portion is earned from exports, So it is a very important contributor to the economy of the Western Cape, the country and probably most importantly the rural areas.”

Carl Opperman, chief executive at Agri Western Cape, said the province’s once safe water position was slowly turning into a crisis with long-term consequence for agriculture.

Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde recently said that expanding access drought relief had become a priority for the provincial government.

CAPE ARGUS