While farmers across the country are heaving a sigh of relief following much-needed rain, some Free State farming communities are suffering severe damage to property and crops.
Free State Agriculture (FSA) president Francois Wilken says though these communities are most grateful for good rains, many are suffering its consequences. At least 12 houses have reportedly been destroyed while both settlements and roads are flooded. Also, some grain plantings have been washed away, while other farmers fear that they won’t be able to plant in time for the next season.
“A way forward can only be determined once the water has cleared up. Only then, can we re-establish damaged infrastructure,” says Wilken, noting that the rain has also caused very difficult driving conditions on dirt roads.
Locals describe it as the most rain they have seen in years, while others say it’s worse than the flood of 1988. The Bultfontein, Wesselsbron and Hoopstad districts have been the hardest hit parts of the province.
A survey conducted by FSA found that most districts received above average rainfall.
In the Nketoana district, towns such as Reitz and Lindley measured 100mm rain over the past weekend alone.
Koot Naudé, FSA regional representative in the Ngwathe district, says although there is currently no flood damage in his district, some fields have been badly washed away. The planting of sunflowers have also came to a halt because of wet conditions.
According to Nollie Steyn, FSA regional representative for the Nketoana district, quite a few farmers still have to harvest wheat. The process is further hampered by the bad condition of roads.
“We are dealing with a serious problem surrounding the transportation of products from farms to silos. It is now becoming a crisis because in some places the roads are totally and utterly irreplaceable,” says Wilken.
FSA is set to launch a campaign to address bad road conditions in the province. The farmers’ organisation is also in talks with government to try and salvage the situation though they will look within their own ranks for assistance first.
— Vrystaat Landbou (@vslandbou) December 23, 2020
‘Answered prayers’ in the Northern Cape
Meanwhile farmers in drought-stricken parts of the Northern Cape and Little Karoo in the Western Cape are rejoicing. They have not seen good rain in years, says sheep farmer Ettiene van Wyk from Marydale.
He tells Food For Mzansi the rains have relieved him from a heavy burden.
“I am so happy about the rain. Keeping my sheep alive with feed was a costly expense for me and many other farmers. So, the rain means a lot to us.”
Van Wyk, like many other Northern Cape farmers, considered closing his farming operations at some point due to protracted droughts. “I was very worried at some stage. I used to have 500 animals on my farm and due to the droughts, this has decreased to 300 over the years.”
In the third week of December 2020, Van Wyk recorded 40mm of rain which, he says, allowed him to stop supplementary feed.
“My heart is overflowing with joy. When I saw it, all I could say was ‘Thank you, Lord.'”
“It’s a nice feeling when you are able to put away the feed buckets knowing there’s enough rain. I believe that it will continue to get better. My heart is overflowing with joy. When I saw it, all I could say was ‘Thank you, Lord.’ Can you imagine, for three years I was praying for this rain and within a half an hour my prayers were finally answered, and my burden lifted.”
Sharing Van Wyk’s sentiments is, the Northern Cape MEC for agriculture, environmental affairs, land reform and rural development, Mase Manopole. She welcomed the rains saying it will ease the burden on farmers.
“We have been noting with concern the dryness of the veld due to lack of rain in the past months… The dryness of the vegetation due to the drought created perfect conditions for runaway veld fires. Veld fires pose a serious threat to both agriculture, and human beings,” she says.
Manopole recognises game farming as a key component of the agricultural sector, which has been hard hit by both the drought and the covid-19 pandemic.
“The good rains will augur well for the recovery of the natural vegetation and leading to the improvement in the condition of game.”
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) forecasts above-normal rainfall for the Northern Cape. Farmers are, however, urged to practice soil and water conservation and establish good drainage systems.
“Since it’s harvesting season, the rain might have an impact on raising production… Farmers should harvest quickly, as the rain might cause damage to grapes and, if left on the trees, might start rotting,” Manopole says.
Little Karoo celebrates ‘showers of blessings’
Furthermore, several areas in the Little Karoo in the Western Cape are also rejoicing after good rains. This includes the towns of Ladismith, De Rust and Laingsburg. Many farmers took to social media to celebrate the rains.
However, Langkuil livestock farmer Jakob van der Linde says he had little cause for celebration. He only received 2mm of rain on his farm, while as much as 26mm was recorded in other towns.
“Farmers closer to the Swartberg mountain received between 15mm and 20mm, but most farmers slightly further from the mountain recorded 2mm and less.”
As a Angora goat farmer, Van der Linde says his animals are highly dependent on feed, which can get costly.
“Things are still going very bad for us on the south side of town. In fact, it is still extremely dry. It rained well in December. However, it was very inconsistent,” he says.
Jeanne Boshoff, communications manager at Agri Western Cape, says the ongoing drought has had a devastating effect on especially the livestock sector and they too are excited about the rain.
She told Food For Mzansi although a formal survey hasn’t been done yet, they are pleased with feedback received thus far. “We are now holding thumbs for the Beaufort West region and other parts of the Central Karoo that need rain critically.”
Grape producers spooked by Orange River floods
Meanwhile, the vineyards of table grape producers in the Orange River region of the Northern Cape could not escape the damaging rains. Producers believe it came at an inopportune time as a third of the table grape crop is yet to be harvested.
Alwyn Dippenaar, chairperson of the Orange River Producers’ Association, told Freshplaza.com that the region has only managed to pack about 65% of the crop.
“Later areas like Augrabies, Kanoneiland, Upington and Kakamas usually pack into the first week of February,” he says.
“There’s definitely a lot of damage but it’s still much too wet to see exactly (how bad it is). Only when it’s drier, we’ll be able to move around in the vineyards and assess the extent of it. No cultivar can escape damage with such an amount of rain.”