Veld fires destroy 40 000ha in Mpumalanga

Some 40 000ha of grazing has been destroyed by veld fires in Mpumalanga this August.

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Mpumalanga Agriculture CEO Hennie Laas said this was on par with the 2011 fire statistics in the province. The biggest fires occurred in Perdekop near Volksrust, in Bethal and in Morgenzon. Laas said the Perdekop fire allegedly started at the Perdekop municipal dump while the fire that raged between Bethal and Morgenzon originated on the tarred road between the two towns.

Farmers in the affected areas have lost virtually all their grazing and are in dire need of animal feed.Laas said high transport costs made it difficult to obtain animal feed for fire-ravaged areas. The average transport truck carries about 36 bales of hay at a cost of R36/ km. “Farmers can’t afford the transport, even if the hay is free.” The added cost of the damage to infrastructure should also be considered, he said.

“Many hectares of fencing have to be replaced. A single wild fire can, for instance, shorten the lifespan of a barbed wire fence by two-thirds.” It takes a full season for veld to recover after a fire and it should ideally be left to rest for another season. The widespread nature of the fires means that the veld will have to be used shortly after the first good summer rains. Sheep can graze on new growth about three weeks after the rain and cattle six weeks later. “This means farmers must find ways to carry the livestock over until then,” said Laas.

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Mpumalanga Agriculture does not arrange meetings between July and September as to not take their members away from their farms in case of a fire. Meanwhile, a number of less serious fires have been reported in North West in August. “We still are in the first quarter of the fire season and call on farmers and landowners to remain vigilant. Refrain from welding, making fires or using any flammable material in strong winds,” Agri Northwest president Cor Janse van Vuuren said.

Readers who want to assist the fire stricken farmers can contact Hennie Laas on 017 819 1295.