Western Cape grain farmers have expressed relief about the significant rainfall that swept across the province thanks to a strong cold front this week.
The cold front also resulted in snowfall over parts of the western high grounds of the Western Cape and the southern high grounds of the Northern Cape, and as far afield as the Eastern Cape.
Eddie Steenkamp, who farms lupins, wheat, oats and barley on Karbonaatjieskraal near Hopefield, recorded 46mm of rain in the past two days. According to Steenkamp, this was the most rain he had received at any one time during the past six years.
“This cold front was one for the books. We have just finished planting and the rain will definitely help with crop emergence,” he said.
He added that the rain also replenished the groundwater in the area. “Last year, the rain we received just dampened the topsoil and the crops were constantly under moisture stress.” With this rain, Steenkamp said he expected good aboveground growth thanks to deeper soil moisture.
In the Southern Cape region, where it had been very dry for the past three years, farmers also received some rain. According to Johannes Joubert, a farmer near Riversdale, about 12mm to 16mm of rain had been recorded in the various areas where he operated his farming business.
“We are very grateful for the rain and it will definitely help with grazing. For the past few months, we have been [forced to buy in feed for] all our animals.”
The recent rainfall did unfortunately not sufficiently replenish the soil moisture in other areas. “If the rainfall lessens from now on, we will not get very far with the rain we received in certain parts, as there are no soil moisture reserves,” explained Joubert.
However, the cold front also brought certain challenges, especially for livestock farmers. According to Aggrey Mahanjana, managing director of the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (NERPO), farmers in the eastern Free State, Northern Cape, and northern parts of the Eastern Cape experienced extremely low temperatures and snowfall.
Mahanjana said that he had so far not received any reports from farmers who had recorded livestock losses due to the cold front, but said sheep farmers whose flocks were currently lambing could potentially suffer losses.
Mahanjana added that the severe cold was also not very good for the grazing on farms. “Once you get frost, even the little grazing you have becomes extremely dormant. It will [result in] farmers [having] to put [their] hands in their pockets [again] to maintain their animals until spring.”
According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), the cold weather was expected to spread further eastwards, covering the entire Northern Cape, Free State, North West, Gauteng, southern Highveld in Mpumalanga, and parts of KwaZulu-Natal.
Severe frost was also possible over the Free State, the southern parts of North West, and in some areas across the Northern Cape from Saturday until Monday.
SAWS advised small livestock farmers to take necessary precautions ahead of time to protect their animals from the cold.