AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Kimberley - The looming red meat shortage in the Northern Cape is becoming a bigger reality by the day as one of the most serious ongoing droughts in recent history is showing no signs of subsiding.

This is according to the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO), which said the current countrywide drought followed a “very poor” 2014 season in most parts of the country.

“Very limited planting has been possible in the summer rainfall areas and grain prices have already started to rise. Months of growth of natural grazing has already been lost and crop residues will be limited during the coming winter. This means that the provision of grazing will already be under serious pressure in the coming winter, which will also have a dampening effect on herd building,” RPO CEO, Lardus van Zyl, said.

“Serious losses of livestock are currently being experienced in the emerging sector countrywide. Provision of water for livestock is now in a crisis situation because dams, marshes, springs, fountains, rivers and boreholes are drying up.

“New boreholes are drilled at high costs and with limited success. In some cases water is driven in – in some places as far [away as from] 15km [away]. In the heat conditions, cattle consume between 40 and 50 litres of water per head per day, which renders the logistics of water supply very difficult.”

Van Zyl added many farmers had already scaled down to nucleus herds and high costs are being incurred for feed and water supply. He said, even with normal rainfall figures, it would take commercial producers between three and four seasons to recover economically.

Van Zyl said, even if the drought was broken soon and farmers received “normal” rainfall for the rest of the season, the supply of slaughter sheep would decline because of herd building and meat prices would increase In the medium and longer term because farmers will build their herds after the drought, creating a deficit on the supply side.

Further, the supply of weaner calves will decline because of herd building, the supply of C-grade beef (factory meat) will decline because of herd building, with the exception of milking cows, whose numbers will even decline further if the milk price rises substantially.

Weaner calf prices are also expected to rise and cattle and sheep prices will rise above the inflation rate, while lamb and calve percentages will be lower because female animals are in a poor condition, which will also result in a lower supply.

However, if the drought persists, Van Zyl said that more young female animals (substitute heifers) will, in the short-term, end up in feedlots and most likely be slaughtered, which could have an influence on calf percentage and thus supply, as well as on the price of weaner calves in the long term.

“Further emergency slaughters will take place in the short-term but supply will not rise drastically because herds are already diminished. Producer prices will in the short term be somewhat lower and in the long term supply will be seriously under pressure with prices rising above the inflation rate.

“The consumer price of red meat will increase because of more expensive grain and feed prices and the impact of the lower supply of slaughter stock from farms. Grain and feed prices as well as input costs will drastically increase,” Van Zyl said.

GWK Abattoirs in the Northern Cape has seen an increase of as much as 20 percent in the amount of animals being brought in to be slaughtered.

Kobus Buys, facilities manager at the Groblershoop GWK sheep abattoir, said yesterday this increase was directly linked to the current drought.

He said, while December 2015 and January 2016 had seen an oversupply of animals, the animals were small and not really “slaughter ready” but farmers were slaughtering “out of pure desperation” as grazing land was fast diminishing.

Buys said, while he did not foresee a shortage within the next four months, red meat could become a rare commodity within six months if adequate rain did not fall soon.

Johan Hannekom, the facilities manager at the GWK De Aar sheep abattoir, added consumers were currently under severe financial pressure and were predicted, especially during the “credit card month” of February, to start looking at cheaper alternatives to red meat, like pork and chicken, which would negatively affect demand.

Hannekom said another problem facing farmers was the scarcity of grazing land, as a result of the drought, coupled with an increase in feed costs.

Albert Grundlingh, from the GWK beef abattoir in Jan Kempdorp and the Tri-Star feedlot near Hartswater, said that a “definite red meat shortage” was looming, as it took 14 to 18 months for damaged herds to repair.

Grundlingh said farmers were “completely disheartened” as a result of the drought situation and “could only pray for rain”.