The South African Weather Service (SAWS) recently announced that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently in a La Niña state, and forecasts indicate that it will likely return to a neutral state by autumn, which is between the months of March, April, and May.
The forecaster announced that the multi-model rainfall forecast indicates above-normal rainfall for the northeast of the country and below-normal rainfall for the southwest during all predicted seasons. As most of the rainfall during winter is expected in the far southwest, the below-normal rainfall conditions in those areas are expected to have a significant impact.
“El Nino basically exposes farmers to extreme weather conditions: heavy rains and exacerbated periods of cold and hot climates. This can lead to animal disease outbreaks, including zoonosis and food-borne diseases, as well as plant pests and forest fires,” said soil scientist Sixolise Mncinga.
What to do in dry weather conditions
Mncinga advises that the best thing farmers can do is adopt regenerative agricultural practices which will help farmers use fewer resources for their farming operations.
She said this could also mean the adoption of conservation agriculture which involves three main principles of minimal soil disturbance, retention of crop residues, and diversification of crops in the same piece of land. The government can also assist by providing these farm inputs and the knowledge of best practices in preparation for El Niño.
“The biggest way to make sure that soils are well prepared is adopting any practice that retains as much moisture to the soil as possible. This could be using any organic material and incorporating it with soil to improve water-holding capacities and at times reduction of plant densities (population) to reduce competition for nutrients and water.”
Expect dry weather for the next three months
Research officer of the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town, Peter Johnston, explained that in the last three years, South Africa experienced La Niña, which is a situation where an area experiences rainfall above normal rainfall, which even leads to flooding. However, in the case of an El Niño, the chances of drought are more likely.
He said from about October this year through to March and April next year, some regions could expect lower than normal rainfall, and although drought is not confirmed, there are high chances of it occurring because of reduced rainfall levels.
“The northern part of Limpopo is much more susceptible to droughts so we tend to watch that area quite a lot. We predict that they should expect a lower than normal rainfall during summer.
Johnston suggested that farmers prepare for dry conditions by reviewing past measures used during the previous El Niño season. He added that doing so would improve previous shortfalls by doing things differently.
Farmers can also do the following:
- Cut down on any risky planting, in other words, any fields or lands that are marginal and risky, farmers should not plant there.
- One should also plant crops that are shorter season crops that can cope with dry conditions and also cut down on the use of fertiliser.
- Choose the right fields.
- Choose the right crops or even cultivars for those of those crops.
- Choose your inputs very carefully to be associated with the drier normal conditions.
- Prepare your soil very carefully and look after the moisture content of the soil.
- Implement minimal tillage.
“Retaining mulch during the winter and keeping the soil covered to prevent drying out is a very good idea,” he said.
“So, this winter, preserve the moisture leftover from last summer and try and keep some material on the ground. Don’t plough until right before the rainfall and even then, we suggest minimum tillage.”
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.