A drought to test any farmer’s mettle

Who would have thought that the simple act of handling could be so detrimental to an animal’s health?

Leon Kruger of the smallstock unit of the Agricultural Research Council’s Animal Production Institute conducted a study into the effect of handling, and found that animals became so stressed when handled that their immune systems were compromised. This of course opens the door for bacteria to thrive and the animals consequently became ill.

My father, a GP, tells me that he has noticed an increase in the amount of summer colds among his patients in Hartbeesfontein and Ottosdal.

I wonder how many are stressed-out farmers?

Everyone is worried about the drought and those with foresight are concerned about the next planting season too. How will farmers get production loans if they can’t pay back this year’s loan?

The seed has been bought, the tractors are serviced and ready, but will farmers feel confident to plant should it rain in time?

No follow-up rain is guaranteed, nor has it ever been.

Farmers understand the risks and know how to manage them. But, as one farmer told us, farmers know to put away a little extra in years of plenty to compensate for lean years, but with profit margins shrinking under pressure there has been precious little to put away. No wonder the Crop Estimates Committee reports that farmers are planning to plant drastically less maize this year.

This is not the first year of drought. And in the face of this drought, even climate-change denialists must realise the value of South Africa’s investment in climate-smart technology and practices. Drought-resistant maize cultivars, recently announced, are a good example of what is needed. If profit margins are indeed shrinking, farmers must have access to the right technology to produce more efficiently.

Unfortunately South Africa is doing way too little in the realm of research and development. In the days of people like Jan Bonsma and company, the country was seen as a leader in the field of agricultural research and development. Perhaps people of Bonsma’s calibre still exist, but there just aren’t enough of them to go around.

China, with its workforce becoming increasingly depleted, is experiencing a similar problem and is doing something about it, with its recent announcement of an end to its one-child policy in favour of two. With an all-time high unemployment rate of 31,2%, South Africa cannot complain of a lack of manpower. Ensuring these people have the right skills, experience and work ethics is an entirely different issue.

It’s difficult not to stress about all the challenges the sector is facing, but as Leon Kruger says, stressing will only make us ill. Now is the time when farmers’ true mettle is being tested, and South Africa’s farmers are nothing if not survivors.