The persistent rain of the past three days over the central parts of South Africa has been tremendously helpful for underground water sources, but in the short and medium-term it is set to pose some problems to vegetable farmers. As it is the summer rains came late this year, complicating matters for vegetable farmers in the central and eastern regions.
In the short-term vegetable growers are unable to get into their fields to harvest and plant. In the absence of sun and heat, growth is retarded, bees don't come out and therefore pollination and fruit set can be affected.
"In six to eight weeks' time you are really going to see the effect of the current rain," says a lettuce grower. "The drama is going to unfold. People don't realise that's the lead time to see the real effect of weather conditions now. Look at cauliflower at the moment, for instance: during the heat of two to three months ago, cauliflower suffered sunburn and now cauliflower is just not available."
"It doesn't matter if you're a grower in Tarlton or Brits or Bapsfontein [in Gauteng Province]. Everywhere it's too wet to harvest or plant mechanically until the rain has subsided," he continues.
In Durban the price of potatoes has already risen to R2,50 - R3 above the average R4,50/kg, says a market agent.
"Limpopo is currently supplying most potatoes for the market. Potato farmers can store potatoes for about two days, so many farmers will harvest tomorrow (Saturday), send it to market by around Tuesday, so from Wednesday next week you can expect to see prices rise even more as supply becomes low."
On onions he predicts even more of a price drop. It has been R3,50 to R4 per kilogram, already showing a rise this morning, and he predicts levels of R5 to R6/kg next week in Durban.
Tomatoes are strongly affected by persistent rainy weather, both in terms of growth and colouring of fruit, and volumes sent to the market has already dropped due to this week's weather. the price has climbed a bit, an average of R10,50/kg this morning which is a good price. The average tomato price had already climbed by 42% over the previous week.
Septoria leaf spot and downy mildew become areas of concern and as soon as the weather clears up - the weekend is predicted to be clear until rain continues again from early next week - spraying programmes will have to address these risks.
Herb growers report that some of their crops have drowned in waterlogged soil. A market agent says that the only lettuce currently coming to market are grown in tunnels, with no openland lettuce being harvested currently.
In the coming weeks the municipal fresh produce markets are approaching a sensitive and volatile period. No December is alike, notes a market agent. The market is acutely sensitive to over- or undersupply as well as strength of demand.