Cape grain harvest appears better than thought

Harvesting of the 2010 Western Cape grain crop has started, with prospects in much of the Swartland wheat-producing region looking favourable, thanks to good weather conditions during most of the growing season.
However, farmers in the eastern parts of the southern Cape are “reaping a nightmare”, according to Grain SA’s Schalk Viljoen.

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The cumulative rainfall for the region was only half the average, Viljoen said. Wheat farmers east of Swellendam were more seriously affected. Elsewhere, mixed conditions were reported, but below-average yields are expected.The barley crop, on the other hand, yielded better than originally anticipated given the adverse circumstances, said Viljoen.

Canola also fared better than originally expected, with the higher yielding new cultivars better able to withstand dry conditions.Possible crop damage due to rainfall of between 15mm and 40mm, and even higher, in late October, is causing some anxiety among farmers.

The Swartland’s favourable weather conditions lasted until a short drought of about three weeks toward the end of the growing season.Nonetheless, an average harvest across most of the Swartland can still be expected, said 2010 Grain Farmer of the Year Pien Bester of Moorreesburg, who is expecting a harvest as good as the five-year average.

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Koos Blankenberg, Grain SA’s board member for the greater Swartland grain-growing region, agreed, saying fair yields and better grades could be expected over much of his territory. The exception is parts of the “Rooi Karoo” of Piketberg, Koringberg and Eendekuil, where erratic rainfall has caused yields to fall below average.

Vredenburg grain farmers on the west coast were also reaping a below-average crop. An average harvest is expected in Moorreesburg, Malmesbury and Porterville. According to Grain SA’s Andries Theron, the SAFEX price for wheat is currently quite satisfactory at about R2 700/t (about R2 300/t at farm-gate level) – and farmers could see an increased income of between R400/t and R500/t on the previous year.

However, of particular concern during the current harvesting operations is possible breakdowns due to aging equipment as wheat prices in recent years have been too low to make replacements viable, said Theron.
Canola yields were generally higher than normal this year, with yields of more than 2t/ha in the Koeberg, he added. This coincided with the higher prices paid for seed because of higher sunflower prices. – Kobus van Tonder