Frost adds to Free State farmer woes

The relief of Free State farmers over long-awaited rain was short-lived after the showers were followed by frost recently.

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The frost caused damage to pasture crops and maize in low lying lands and valleys, especially in the western production areas of Bothaville, Viljoenskroon and Bultfontein. Farmers in the Springfontein and Bethulie areas in the south of the province reported a low incidence of frost with minimal damage.

Farmers who did late maize plantings especially suffered damage as the plants were still in the early green stage and not strong enough to withstand frost. Cobus Claassen, Santam Agriculture’s regional manager, said that the damage caused by the frost could result in a reduced harvest and grade problems. “About 20% of the maize in the western Free State has been affected by the frost and farmers can expect a 30% to 40% loss in harvest.”

As a result of the frost, maize plants experienced a high incidence of foliage loss. Consequently, the maize ears won’t dry out and can’t be used. The maize grade will reduce further should the wet weather continue, but dry weather conditions with sunny days could improve the harvest.

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Claassen added that the western Free State had largely escaped the drought that had plagued the rest of the country’s maize farmers and until recently were looking forward to a good harvest. Herman van Schalkwyk, regional chairperson of Free State Agriculture (FSA) for Trompsburg in the south, said that his crops mostly escaped damage from the frost due to fires that were lit in the veld.

“We acted quickly and the smoke and heat reduced the damage. I don’t know what my crops would look like if we didn’t light the fires.”  He added that pasture grass in the Trompsburg region “doesn’t look good at the moment” because of the little rain they had.
Pasture grass and lucerne were also badly affected by the frost and livestock farmers are holding their breath to see if the available grass will see the animals through the winter. Henk Vermeulen, CEO of FSA, said that pasture grass is a “big problem’’ this year.

“Farmers received rain here and there, but generally there was very little rain at the right time. “Positive news is that farms in the Zastron area received about 30mm of rain last week which has resulted in a big improvement of the soil moisture content. This bodes well for pasture grasses.”