Farmers fear R1,8 bln loss

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Pietermaritzburg - The cane growing industry is estimating a loss of R1,8 billion while some farmers may not be able to afford to replant after yet another drought.

The irregular rainfall has seen farmers, particulary along the Dolphin Coast, have their “biological assets” destroyed for the second time in just five years.

This billion-rand loss estimation takes into account the non-drought real value of the sugar­cane as well as the 2014/15 actual and the estimated 2015/16 season production. This provides an overall estimate of what the growers are losing in terms of gross revenue.

In the previous season the industry lost about R1 billion.

Agricultural union Kwanalu chief executive Sandy la Marque said all agricultural commodities are being severely affected by the drought.

“Vast numbers of animals have perished, herds have been reduced, which will affect future earning potential, crops are not being planted in many areas,” said Le Marque.

She said farmers were attempting to reduce costs, which included reducing labour.

SA Canegrowers director for regional services Dr Kathy Hurly said due to sugarcane being a perennial crop, roots can often stay in the ground for between eight to 30 years.

“The drought kills these roots. These are our biological assets and when they are killed growers must replant, a process known as gap fill.”

But Hurly said replanting is one of the highest costs farmers must face.

“It generally takes five to eight years [after a crop is planted] to see a return on investment. But a large percentage of crop was destroyed in the 2010 drought. Now another crop has been destroyed. In effect there has been no return on investment.”

She said remarkably many farmers are not being forced to close.

“However, some have gone out of business since 2010. Darnel and Tinley Manor are hard-pressed areas. Due to the poor returns they are unable to employ the same amount of workers than before, which presents new social difficulties for those affected families.”

Hurly said farm dams, much like Hazelmere Dam, were under pressure while farmers as far as Pongola were receiving water only once every fortnight for irrigation. The July rainfall did little to ease the burden. While most areas averaged 200 mm, it was insufficient due to the already depleted groundwater reserves.

“… Concerns remain that we may again receive inadequate rain. Much of the North Coast and the Zululand area require replant and gap filling, which some growers may not be able to afford given the financial impact of the drought this year,” said Hurly.

She said the North Coast and Zululand received more rainfall than the Midlands in July 2015, which was visually evident in areas such as Eston where farm crops were at risk of fire.

SA Canegrowers is a national organisation that represents SA’s 23 866 private cane growers

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