Late rains place producers under pressure - 10 November 2010
After an exceptionally good rain season in 2009/2010, Southern African producers are under pressure as good rains stay away in most areas of the sub-continent. While fodder producers farming under irrigation are doing good business with rising feed prices, livestock farmers, especially those farming under extensive conditions, are having to manage their grazing carefully until good seasonal rains fall in the summer rainfall areas.
Late rains are particularly worrisome this season as farmers in huge areas of South Africa have suffered terrible bush fires, the extent of which was previously unknown in the country. Many of the fires are the result of arson, although some have been started by lightning strikes. After the very good rain season in 2009/2010, there is a significant amount of combustible material on farms and this has contributed to hot, damaging fires. Some reports estimate that almost one third of the Free State province has been laid waste through fire damage. The North West Province and Northern Cape have also suffered hundreds of thousands of hectares of damage and farmers are under severe financial pressure to survive. Many farmers have lost their entire farm and are reliant on aid from farmer unions and fellow farmers.
Typically, little or no aid is forthcoming from the South African government and farmers are expected to survive on their own. Whatever aid farmers have received has been organised by fellow farmers in other areas of the country where conditions are more favourable. The little aid offered by the government is always too little too late.
The dry conditions, combined with exceptionally hot and very windy conditions over large parts in the north and west of South Africa, have dried out pastures and restricted growth. Early spring growth has also suffered under the hot conditions. Gusty winds and windstorm damage has also been reported, adding to the cost pressure on farmers as they work to repair damage. Uncharacteristically cold nights and the regular occurrence of cold fronts over large parts of the interior have kept night-time temperatures low. This has resulted in a lack of vegetative growth as ground temperatures remain significantly below normal.
Weather forecasts for the end of November indicate wide-spread rains and farmers are hopeful for relief.