HOPES RISING: The level of the Theewaterskloof Dam continues to climb, thanks to the good rain the region has received in recent weeks. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - While the Western Cape has had good rain over the past month or so, bringing relief to some farmers and filling dams, the province still needs more rain, particularly in wheat-producing areas, say experts.

Agri Western Cape chief executive Carl Opperman said the grain season was in full swing in the province.

Opperman said good rainfall so far this season had brought relief to many producers, but there were some areas that still needed rain critically.

He said the outlook for grain producers in the Swartland and Cape Metropole regions looked much more positive than this time last year, because of the recent rain, but they needed rain until September, so follow-up rainfall was critical.

“Producers planted in wet soil for the first time in three years in these areas. The Overberg region, from Bredasdorp to Mossel Bay in the southern Cape, is still very dry, and some grain crops have already suffered damage. Livestock producers also need help. The grain situation doesn’t look good in the Hessequa region, where the grain battles to germinate due to very little rain up to date,” said Opperman.

He said the recent snowfall was good news for orchards (citrus, deciduous) and for table grapes and wine grapes that needed the cold units to go into a rest period.

“Although dam levels are rising, the water restrictions for producers will only be lifted once the levels reach 85percent. The drought will only be broken once our groundwater levels are back to normal, but we are far from that,” said Opperman.

Absa agricultural economist Karabo Takadi said the weather outlook remained favourable for the Western Cape’s winter rainfall production areas, and the recent rain had been positive for crops.

FNB’s agricultural economist, Paul Makube, said in the face of uncertainty regarding the weather outlook, the winter crop season began on a negative note with wheat farmers in the Western Cape, the province’s largest grain crop, indicating that they would reduce their planted area by 1.8percent year-on-year to 320000 hectares.

“Remember, the Western Cape accounts for 63.9percent of the total area under wheat, and is therefore very critical in the supply dynamics for the country. Other crops, such as canola, also saw a reduction in planted areas.

“The combination of the prolonged drought and water restrictions, as well as frost damage in some areas, caused a 15percent drop in the 2018 wine grape harvest to 1.22million grapes crushed, which yielded 948million litres of wine, also down 15percent according to industry reports. Nonetheless, weather conditions turned positive, with good rains since the beginning of the season,” said Makube.

He added that this saw a gradual replenishment of soil moisture and dam levels, which boded well for emerging and growing crops.

Makube said the recent good rains from the cold front helped lift the overall dam levels in the Western Cape by 5.2percentage points week-on-week (w/w) to 41.6percent full relative to 23.3percent last year, according to the Department of Water and Sanitation data update for the week ended July 2.

He said the levels of dams feeding the City of Cape Town were collectively over 50percent full relative to last year’s 25.1percent.

“This is good news, but it’s still early days, as the drought has yet to be broken and control measures to limit consumption are likely to remain in place for a bit longer, until the end of the rainy season when the extent of dam replenishment is determined, ideally 85percent full for overall regional dams,” he said.

Makube added that some areas in the Western Cape, such as Ceres, received snowfall, with a substantial cover reported in the Matroosberg area.

Makube said that while the agriculture output had been reduced across most commodities in the Western Cape, the recent rand weakness was supportive of exportable commodities such as fruit and wines.

“Wines, in particular, are likely to benefit as the tight global and local stocks will lift prices in the medium term, but it is still a long way to go for most farmers that have been badly affected by the 2017 drought,” said Makube.

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Cape Argus