Imagine waking up to a field of crops that have been devastated by extreme rains or finding that your livestock is struggling to survive in a scorching drought. These are the potential effects of El Niño, a weather phenomenon that is being predicted for this season and is potentially devastating for farmers.
Explaining what this prediction means, Jessica Maroga, an agricultural economist at VKB Group, says this means that during planting season farmers are going to have a wet period followed by a drought. A wet period means they can’t enter their fields, meaning they can’t plant on time, thus further harming them financially.
“An El Niño event is declared when sea surface temperatures in the tropical eastern Pacific rise above the long-term average. This alters the weather conditions globally,” Maroga said.
Be prepared either way
“With El Niño predicted, there is a 66% chance of experiencing a dry year with adverse climatic conditions this coming planting season. They are not saying it’s going to happen but they’re also not saying it’s not going to happen, so we’re in a grey area,” she said.
However, she mentioned that sometimes a normal season may occur even with El Niño present, thus advising farmers to be ready and be prepared both ways.
“Preparing for this unpredictable season which farmers are currently facing is critical. One thing we do not have control over is the weather, but one can definitely prepare for it.
“Farming practices should place emphasis on the risks of drought but also be flexible to take advantage should normal conditions prevail,” she added.
Kamohelo Mofokeng, who is also an agricultural economist at VKB Group, spoke about the financial implications of El Niño for farmers, especially those involved in food production and the value chain.
Mofokeng said the weather patterns play a pivotal role in the financial well-being of the farmer, so preparations and adapting are crucial in making well-informed decisions about their farming entity.
The importance of a farm plan
He says as a farmer it is important to have a well-prepared farm plan. Mofokeng gave some tips on how farmers could be well ahead of time in their operations.
- It helps the farmer to decide in advance (What to produce?).
- It helps the farmer to make financial management decisions (e.g., How much to borrow? And when to borrow?).
- It guides and encourages the most efficient and economical use of resources.
- It helps to measure performance and focuses attention on deviations for corrective action.
Mofokeng also shared practical measures to help prepare for the predicted El Niño season.
- Plant good fields, and take marginal fields out of production.
- Deeper soils that hold more water and allow better root development.
- Well-drained soils (to handle wetter conditions after planting).
- Soil-corrected fields according to pH, acid-saturated fields, and P (phosphate).
- Crops e.g. a combination of sunflower and maize.
- Livestock (2 cows per hectare planted).
“To make the most of the opportunities and minimise the risks, farmers are advised to carefully monitor the forecast and make informed decisions about their crops and livestock,” he said.
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