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Farmers struggle with load shedding

Electricity is central to modern farming practices and the recent increase in load shedding has seriously disrupted farming operations. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Electricity is central to modern farming practices and the recent increase in load shedding has seriously disrupted farming operations. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Published Jul 7, 2022

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South African farmers have warned that the disruptive load shedding was posing long-term risks to the agricultural sector and the economy as a whole as it could worsen rising food prices.

AgriSA said yesterday that the impact of the ongoing power outages on the agricultural sector and the wider economy held serious implications for food security and social stability.

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AgriSA executive director Christo van der Rheede cautioned that the extended period of Level 6 load shedding was threatening the viability of the sector.

Van der Rheede said load shedding contributed to inflation and might result in farmers planting less due to rising costs and disruption in planting schedules.

“Load shedding increases the cost of production for farmers at a time when South Africans are facing further food price increases and are under unprecedented economic pressure,” he said.

Eskom yesterday continued implementing various stages of load shedding as some generation units had to be taken offline for repairs, in spite of employees returning to work after signing a 7 percent, 1-year wage agreement.

The power utility said load shedding would continue being implemented at varying stages during the next few weeks as the generation capacity shortages persist.

Electricity is central to modern farming practices and the recent increase in load shedding has seriously disrupted farming operations.

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Pumping stations, irrigation, cooling and other systems all depend on power supply.

Van der Rheede said while some farmers had the means to move away from the power grid, most were unable to do so, especially the most vulnerable small-scale farmers.

He said farmers forfeit their water quotas for irrigation purposes when the power is off – an irrecoverable loss that paralysed farms.

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“Farmers are already reporting huge losses as processing machinery, irrigation equipment and other machinery are damaged and come to a standstill due to power outages,” he said.

“The power outages are also causing waste and financial losses due to the impact on food storage. Retailers are starting to reject fresh produce, mainly vegetables due to delays in delivery and disruption in the cold chain.

“In summer this challenge increases exponentially. This will reduce the amount of food available and increase its cost to the consumer.”

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Electricity challenges to the agricultural industry come as farmers are facing rising input costs, especially for fertiliser and seeds, due to the Russian war in Ukraine.

Higher agricultural commodity price pressures saw the food price inflation rate rise to 7.8 percent year-on-year in May, representing the largest monthly increase since February 2016 when the country was experiencing a severe drought.

Whilst South Africa produces enough food locally to hold a comfortable level of food security, the country remains an agricultural price-taker, thus international food prices are a key driver of domestic food prices.

Anthony Clark, an independent analyst in Smalltalkdaily Research, said soft commodities have risen sharply since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Clark said South African farmers have had to adapt to the changing environment and respond to higher input costs.

“Again, as seen in South Africa in the recent planting season, farmers switched crops to lower fertiliser intensive crops switching to more soya and less maize,” he said.

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