Good rains fell over most parts of KZN over the weekend of 19 November, with Paulpietersburg, Gingindlovu and Durban most affected. The rains were welcomed by most farmers, including sugar cane growers recovering from two difficult seasons of drought and frost conditions and a volatile world market sugar price.
However, the heavy rains caused houses to collapse, killing at least two people, and displacing hundreds of families from informal settlements. There have also been reports of flooding of low-lying sugar cane fields in coastal areas. Affected farmers are now racing against the clock to harvest waterlogged fields before the mills close for the year.
Moses Gumede, a sugar cane farmer outside Gingindlovu, said: “I received more rain than was necessary. On Saturday I measured 100mm but it was surely more than that as the rain gauge only measures up to 100mm. Sunday I measured 46mm and on Monday night we had 12mm.”
Gumede said while newly planted fields had been damaged by the heavy rains, the most serious damage was to roads.
“I’ve just spent the off-crop period fixing my roads and now they’re worse than before. Added to this, the mills stop crushing on 12 December but we can’t get into the wet fields to harvest. We haven’t been able to send cane to the mill for more than five days.”
If the wet fields hamper extraction operations, it could lead to increased carry-over cane to next season. Chris Gillitt, Canegrowers regional manager for the Tugela region on the KZN North Coast, said the Amatikulu cane supply area recorded in excess of 220mm of rain, above the long-term mean of 121mm.
“This will be welcome news to growers in that area, who were among the hardest hit by the earlier drought conditions,” Gillitt explained. The rain has come at an ideal time as most sugar cane growers have begun fertiliser and planting operations for next season’s crop.
However, the rainfall has not been widespread throughout the sugar industry areas, with the Midlands region receiving roughly 25mm compared to the long-term mean of 112mm. Brian Pearce, Canegrowers regional manager for the Midlands region, said that the area inland from the coast had dried off and rain is badly needed there. – Robyn Joubert