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.
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.