Load shedding is back, and the agriculture sector is bracing for what could be a very negative impact on the profitability of farmers and the quality of export produce.
Power utility Eskom has announced that it will be curtailing and disconnecting the power of municipalities in Gauteng, Northern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal due to illegal connections and non-payments.
Blackouts in Gauteng are already in effect. According to media reports, the province experienced load reduction for a full five hours on Tuesday evening, having been subject to these localised, rolling blackouts since June.
Magareng local municipality in the Northern Cape will be experiencing daily power outages effective today due to non-payment. The power utility also announced it will be implementing load shedding in parts of KwaZulu-Natal during peak hours.
Agri SA’s chairman for economics and trade centre of excellence, Nicol Jansen, says that load shedding is detrimental to the optimal functioning of the agricultural sector.
The irrigation industry needs electricity to water crops and the absence of electricity can put farmers behind schedule, so far behind that crop damage may occur by the end of the season, he says.
“Most of the irrigation in the sector is on the Rurafrex programme of Eskom. That means that farmers can only use electricity at certain times and not during peak times, or else they will be penalised with extremely high tariffs,” Jansen says.
He explains that the cold chain, especially in the export market, needs to be maintained, and it can be compromised if load shedding lasts too long.
“Generators can be used as an alternative solution. However, maintaining them is costly and the escalating production costs can’t be forwarded to consumers, as prices are determined on the world market,” he says.
Load shedding can also mean financial difficulties for grain farmers, he says.
“The biggest constraint is the handling of the grain silos when load shedding occurs. The generators are normally not big enough to handle all the operations needed for the intake of the grain.”
“That will escalate the costs before shipment can take place and that is also negative for the profitability of the sector. The selling price is already fixed due to international price tendencies and international price forming mechanisms,” Jansen says.