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Reduction in Cape vegetable production due to water shortages
Disappointing rain for the Cape but intense cold over South Africa
The much-anticipated cold front, predicted by the South African Weather Service to be an intense weather system, that reached the Cape coast this past weekend hasn’t brought substantial rain, but it did bring snow over the mountains of the Western and Eastern Cape as well as the Free State and frost over the interior of the country. Snow on Table Mountain caused much excitement.
Snow falling on Table Mountain in Cape Town
“What we need is rain over a two or three-day period to soak the ground,” says Nicholas Dicey, chair of the South African Apple and Pears Producers’ Organisation (SAPPA). On his farm near Wolseley only 7mm fell. “Underground water is a concern and the runoff, which is needed to fill the dams, was minimal from this weekend’s rainfall. We have a very, very challenging season ahead and in the meantime people must get their ducks in a row regarding water conservation.”
“The good thing is the chilling from the snow that fell. Snow is great for cold but also great for water supply. The mountain is like a sponge that releases water from springs,” he continues.
Nicholas Dicey makes another point: the effect of the drought on fruit production is often discussed, but currently the vegetable production sector in the Western Cape is being hardest hit. Some farmers are cutting back on vegetable production to rather conserve water for their longterm crops, like orchards.
A decrease in Western Cape vegetable production has already been in evidence last year, a market agent confirms, particularly in areas like the Philippi Horticultural Area of Cape Town. An impact on onion production is expected, among a wide spectrum of other vegetables. Vegetable farmers still have a month or so to wait for adequate rain before planting, but there are already reports that this past weekend’s rain might have been the only good rain to be expected in the Cape this July, historically the main rainfall month for Cape Town and environs.
Snow on the Riviersonderend Mountains (Photo by Regina Neethling; Source: Snow Report SA)
In the Banhoek Valley outside Stellenbosch more than 30mm fell in some areas and similar amounts in Villiersdorp, which is a catchment area for the important Theewaterskloof Dam (currently at 19.9%, 20% down from last year). The Hex River Valley received between 10 and 15mm, roughly the same as in the Clanwilliam area.
All Boland farmers agree that they had hoped for more rain, and certainly need much more. Many farmers don’t have the back-up of access to a water scheme this season, as water allocation has been cut to a minimum, and therefore they completely depend on smaller farm dams.
As for the cold, the extreme cold doesn’t necessarily benefit orchards, but rather a median temperature above freezing and below approximately 16°C. For the month of June, some parts of the Boland are ahead on the cold unit accumulation curve, compared to last year. In the interior, however, the winter has been milder than usual this year.
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