Further flooding expected in Orange River region

“Earlier than usual flooding” stretching from the Prieska to Kakamas areas in the Orange River region of the Northern Cape, have left farmers concerned about the climatic outlook for the rest of the season.

Further flooding expected in Orange River region
A large area of agricultural land has been flooded in the Orange River region of the Northern Cape due to recent heavy rainfall in the catchment of the Vaal and Orange rivers.
Photo: Wilco Fourie
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This was according to Wilco Fourie, chairperson of the Orange River Agricultural Organisation, who told Farmer’s Weekly that the Orange River started flooding its banks about a week ago, following heavy rainfall in the Orange and Vaal river catchment areas two to three weeks prior.

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Although farmers reported that several lands planted to cash crops, such as maize, cotton and watermelons, had suffered water damage, Fourie said it was still too early to determine the impact on crops such as table grapes, raisins, wine grapes, and pecan nuts.

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Ferdie Botha, chairperson of Raisins South Africa, estimated that about 3% of the 14 000ha under dried grape production could have been destroyed, along with essential infrastructure such as bridges to some of the islands under production in the Orange River system, as well as flood walls.

According to Fourie, some farmers in the region were of the opinion that the floods could have been managed better.

He explained that these farmers believed that the sluice gates should have been opened earlier as the Vaal River was as more than 105% of capacity by the weekend of 11 November, but the sluice gates of the Vaal Dam were only opened on the Sunday (12 November).

This increased the water flow from the dam from 80m3 to 1 000 m3 in a single day, he said.

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“We have been working with the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation for the past two years to identify ways to improve the overflow [situation]. We believe that this, along with these of modern technology, will help to significantly reduce the impact of flooding in the future,” Botha said.

So far this year, the region had been hit by flooding in January, April and again in November.

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“It is the first time in our history that we have had three floods in one year, and it does not bode well for the rest of the season, as all the dams are full and the soil is saturated. Any additional heavy rainfall has the potential to result in another flood,” Fourie said.

Botha agreed: “Farmers are on edge as a particularly wet season has been forecasted. Raisin farmers, alone, lost 30% of their yields last season, and 22% during the previous season, [with losses amounting to] R1,3 billion, which is an enormous socio-economic blow, as the region is heavily dependent on agriculture for job [creation] and income generation.

“With input costs being sky-high, farmers simply cannot afford to absorb such large losses for another season.”

Johan van den Bergh, an independent agricultural meteorologist, told Farmer’s Weekly that there was a high risk of more flooding during December, with 50mm to 80mm of rainfall expected over large parts of the Vaal River catchment area next month. The above-average rainfall was largely due to the La Niña weather phenomenon.

La Niña weather conditions were, however, expected to weaken from January onwards, pointing to a drier second half of the summer rainfall season, he said.

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Glenneis Kriel is a senior agricultural journalist for Farmer's Weekly. Her ventures into agricultural journalism started out by chance, more than 20 years ago, when someone suggested she freelance for the magazine, which turned out to be her dream job. Her passion is to write stories that inspire greatness and make people evaluate the way they are doing things.