Dry spell could hurt farmers

2008-03-11 00:00

Already pressed local consumers could see further food price hikes, not only as a result of farmers having increased production costs set off by the massive petrol price increase, but also due to drought conditions being experienced on KwaZulu-Natal farms.

The scorched province is holding its breath as a cold front edges up the coastline this week, and hopes are high that at least some rain will alleviate the dry conditions and that cooler temperatures will revive flagging energy levels.

According to forecaster Ntokozo Nkangane from the Durban weather office, February and March have produced less rainfall than the monthly average. In February, Pietermaritzburg had 78,4 mm, compared to the average of 117 mm. A third of the way through March, no rain has yet fallen, although 113 mm is the average for this month.

Nkangane said the dry spell should break this week, with a 60% chance of showers today and tomorrow. “There is a good chance of scattered showers in the eastern parts, which includes Pietermaritzburg.”

On Thursday, isolated showers (30%) are expected.

The week should also bring cooler temperatures, he said.

“We have had high temperatures lately, which are normal for this time of year, but they are usually accompanied by showers, which we haven’t been getting.”

Locals have been sweltering, with high discomfort indices sending sweat glands into overdrive.

With today’s temperature forecast just below the 30°C mark (29°C), temperatures in the 20s should persist until Friday.

However, according to long range forecasters at Pretoria’s weather office, the three monthly forecast shows a slightly better than normal outlook for showers over KZN, except for areas near the Swaziland border.

Robin Barnsley, president of the KZN Agricultural Union, told The Witness that the effect of the dry spell on some farmers has been “very severe”.

“In the midlands, we had good rain from October to January, but north and south of that it’s been very dry.”

Barnsley said that on the south coast, dairy farmers in particular have been hard hit, with sugar cane farmers on the north coast feeling the worst of the pinch.

He said farmers rely on good rains in February and March to set them up for the winter dry periods, but that any rain experienced has been very patchy and localised almost to individual farms.

“We are not in good shape for winter and farmers relying on veld and pastures could suffer significantly,” he said.

Barnsley added that there is the potential for an adverse effect for consumers.

“If you don’t have power, you can’t irrigate rye grass and other crops. It seems the worst is not over yet,” Barnsley said.

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