Farmers must prepare for veld fire season

Farmers and landowners in central South Africa have been asked to be vigilant with the advent of the annual veld fire season.

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Some 300 000ha was destroyed by fires in the Free State in 2011, according to Malcolm Procter, the agriculture department’s director of veld and bushfire oversight in the province. He said that a fire which destroyed 2 000ha has already occurred in the Vrede district. “I call on farmers and landowners to ensure proper fire breaks, to burn down moribund vegetation according to the prescribed methods and to make sure fire fighting equipment is in good working order,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to Henk Vermeulen, CEO of Free State Agriculture, none of the organisation’s members received government aid after the 2011 veld fires. “We did, however, receive remarkable assistance from the private sector,” he said. “The fodder banks that were put in place in the province also went a long way to mitigate the effects of the veld fires.” These are essential, especially in the first 10 days or so after a fire, to tide the animals over until other arrangements can be made.

The sporadic rainfall in the Northern Cape has lessened the possibility of veld fires somewhat, but these remain a threat in areas where good rains have fallen, said Johan van Rensburg, CEO of Agri Northern Cape. He added that last year’s good rains over the Karoo region resulted in relatively dense vegetation, which caused extremely high fire temperatures. The severly impacted perennial vegetation will take years to recuperate.

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“It’s very difficult to quantify the extent of 2011’s damage, but we’ve lost thousands of hectares. Our farmers, however, never hesitate to assist fire victims. This means a lot since the only thing we’ve received from government was a sympathetic ear and nothing else.” The North West did not receive any government disaster relief either, according to Boeta du Toit, CEO of Agri North West.

The only support veld fire victims in the province received came from the private sector. It is of the utmost importance that all landowners get involved in fire prevention structures, said Du Toit. “We must protect the veld as a valuable resource at all cost.”