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Western Cape agriculture lashed by heavy rains

Massive waves pounding the Sea Point Promenade. Heavy rain leading to flash flooding. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Massive waves pounding the Sea Point Promenade. Heavy rain leading to flash flooding. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Published Oct 3, 2023


The Western Cape’s agricultural sector has been hard hit by heavy rains -- the province accounts for more than two-thirds of South Africa's winter crops and a large share of wine grapes and various horticulture products.

The Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said yesterday that the rainfall peak was around Bredasdorp in the Southern Overberg region.

Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said significant damage to farm infrastructure, electricity supply and road networks were reported in various small farming towns of the province, mainly the southern areas.

"Still, the impact of the floods on wine grapes and table grapes remains unclear as industry horticulturalists continue assessing the fields. We have seen anecdotal evidence of damages to some storage facilities and crop fields in the southern regions.

“Another challenge caused by wet soil has been the difficulties of tractors spraying herbicides and fertilizers, so some farmers now use drones to spray the fields. Perhaps this is a positive step towards technological advancement accelerated by unfavourable weather conditions," Sihlobo said.

The recent rains were costly to the farming community, but they did not have the full scale of the impact yet, he added.

"The primary issue is infrastructure, which has taken a significant knock and is vital for storing and transporting products to market."

Regarding the winter crops, Sihlobo said: "As best as we can tell, and from various interactions with farmers in the Western Cape, we suspect the impact on crops will be minimal, but the harvest quality may be an issue.

“The southern regions could have some damage, but its scale remains unclear. We maintain a positive view of South Africa's 2023/24 winter crop harvest.“

On September 27, 2023, the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) released its second production estimates for winter crops and kept the wheat harvest at 2.1 million tons, up 1% from the previous season.

This is well above the 10-year average harvest of 1.8 million tons.

This was supported by an expected large crop in the Western Cape and Limpopo, which overshadowed an anticipated decline in the Free State, Northern Cape and other provinces.

“This means that the crop conditions in the Western Cape are far more consequential for South Africa's winter wheat harvest size."

Agbiz said South Africa would likely need to import about 1.6 million tons of wheat to meet domestic consumption in the 2023/24 season (down from the forecast 1.7 million tons in the 2022/23 season).

Sihlobo said the 2023/24 barley production was estimated at 389 920 tons (up 29% y/y).

"This would be the largest crop in three years and mainly be supported by an expansion in the area planted and the anticipated better yields.“

The 2023/24 canola crop was estimated at a record 230 950 tons, slightly down from last month (up 10% y/y).

Agbiz said Western Cape dams were generally full. The improvement would significantly help irrigate the horticulture fields in the coming months.

"Still, the immediate need for farmers and farming towns is assistance fixing the infrastructure so that commercial activities can resume. The road networks, storage facilities and electricity supplies are probably the most immediate areas to prioritise. The interventions could be made by both the provincial and national governments, while businesses will also focus on fixing the farming infrastructure,“ he said.

Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at Beefmaster Group, told “Business Report“ that the recent floods in the Western Cape had been devastating for people and families affected, whose properties, vehicles and safety were either affected or threatened.

"We expect the damage from the floods to primarily affect the quality of wheat rather than crop yield. We are likely to see a downgrade in wheat quality, but we do not foresee any significant impact on food security," Van Reenen said.