Eskom pulls plug on farmers

National electricity provider Eskom’s load-shedding to minimise strain on the country’s power infrastructure was met with irritation and outrage from farmers.
Issue Date: 2 February 2007

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National electricity provider Eskom’s load-shedding to minimise strain on the country’s power infrastructure was met with irritation and outrage from farmers.

The effects of the recent power failures were most acutely felt by farmers in the Northern Cape and Limpopo. According to Nic Opperman, director of Natural Resources at Agri SA , high summer temperatures in these provinces are harmful to crops if irrigation cannot be provided due to electricity failures. “It is crucial to irrigate crops at this time,” Opperman said, adding that the short-, medium- and longterm losses will be significant.

Agri SA will meet with Eskom to discuss the problem. “We have a good relationship with Eskom and we have taken steps to discuss that power is not cut in certain areas. This will be of great assistance to the agricultural sector,” he said.

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Johannes Moller, chairperson of Agri Northern Cape, said power disruptions in the Hopetown and Douglas areas mainly affected wheat and maize farmers. Moller said irrigation scheduling was interrupted and farmers are concerned that the quality and volume of their crops will be affected.

He said load-shedding in the lower Orange River area, where grapes are grown, is a major concern as grapes have to be cooled after picking. “In our case Eskom did their best to avoid more power failures,” he said. Power cuts in Limpopo severely affected the Tzaneen and Hoedspruit regions. Gert Rall, spokesperson for Agri Limpopo, said the power cuts were particularly problematic for farmers packing fruit. Produce stored in cooling rooms suffered temperature fluctuations and may not be suitable for sale. “Farmers also have to keep on paying labour even though there’s no work for them during the outages,” Rall said.

Commercial egg producer and president of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, Robin Barnsley, was angry that Eskom had given businesses very short notice of its intention to cut electricity and labelled the action unacceptable. “Farmers are having to put up huge capital outlay to install back-up electricity generators for their operations, and this is despite them already having to pay user charges and line rentals for a service that they are not adequately receiving.”

Barnsley said intensive livestock operations, such as dairy, poultry and pork, need to have an uninterrupted supply of electricity to run properly. He pointed out that a 100kVA back-up generator will currently set a farmer back R110 000 to R120 000 – a huge cost for a piece of equipment that will often sit idle. Quentin Simpson, a Highflats dairy farmer and chairperson of the KZN Milk P roducers’ Organisation, said he could not milk his cows or cool his stored milk when the electricity went out. Simpson also warned that without electricity many farms were put at greater risk of crime because alarm systems and electric fences no longer operated properly. – Wilma den Hartigh and Lloyd Phillips.

Provincial reports by Farmer’s Weekly editorial staff
Power cuts severely affected the Tzaneen and Hoedspruit regions, especially farmers packing fruit. Produce stored in cooling rooms may not be suitable for sale.
Northern Cape
Disruptions in Hopetown and Douglas mainly affected wheat and maize farmers. Outages in the lower Orange River area, where grapes are grown, are a major concern.
Tobacco farmers were affected by the blackout as it came at a time when the product is in the barns where it needs to remain at a constant temperature.
Widespread outages in the Midlands affected dairy, pork and poultry farming. Power failures in Highflats in the west of the province hit fruit and dairy production.
Free State
Koos Pienaar, a Free State dairy farmer, said fortunately most dairy farmers weren’t severely affected by the power cuts as many farmers have generators on standby.
North West
No reports of major power cuts were received by Agri North West. “We hope there will be no disruptions,” said Boeta du Toit, Agri North West president.
Fresh produce growers, feedlots and abattoirs throughout the province were severely affected as entire operations came to a standstill for up to six hours at a time. Western Cape Blackouts had minimal impact on production, but Carl Opperman, CEO of Agri Wes Cape, said the industry will suffer huge losses if outages follow the same trend as last year.
Eastern Cape
Agri Eastern Cape did not receive any reports of damages suffered from blackouts, but it is still collecting information from farmers.

What caused the outages?
After days of power shortages which saw rolling blackouts across the country, Eskom last week announced that it now has enough electricity to meet the full national demand. Eskom spokesperson Fani Zulu was quoted in various media reports as saying there had been no load-shedding – the deliberate cutting-off of electricity when demand exceeds supply – since Thursday 18 January, when eight of the electricity utility’s units went on an “unplanned outage” resulting in a shortage of 4 600MW. At that time some 4 900MW was unavailable because several other units were undergoing maintenance. The Sunday Times reported that Eskom’s decision to terminate a contract with Afgri Logistics, which transported coal to its power stations, could go some way in explaining the outages. Eskom did hire other smaller companies to transport the coal, but these could not cope with the demand, the report noted. – Staff reporter