Western Cape wheat farmers hopeful recent rains will improve production

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The Western Cape is the bread basket of South Africa, producing 60% of the country’s wheat. But over the last five years, the drought has resulted in dwindling and failing crops at an alarming rate.

This season, however, farmers are expecting average production due to recent good rains.

Gideon Melck has hope that this year’s crop will be good. It’s been six years since his wheat showed this much potential. He planted 650 hectares in faith as the rains were a month late.

Melck is now holding his breath that September will be cool and wet to give the crop a decent chance.

If there is just one week of very hot and dry conditions, the entire harvest could be lost. Wheat farming is becoming more difficult every year as climate change wrecks havoc, disrupting rain patterns.

“It’s a very intensive rain for two, three days and then it stays away for a couple of weeks, like we’ve had it this season.  So, we’ve got to farm to preserve that moisture for overtime that you need later on again and then the next thing is the open market system where we are 100% exposed to the world and then, of course, our rand dollar situation; that’s the main driver of the wheat price,” says Melck.

South African wheat farmers compete against international producers that are subsidised and protected against weak or failed harvests. This makes selling wheat locally tricky in order to recoup costs and turn a profit.

Bank loans have to be paid, no matter the outcome of a harvest. But if September’s weather plays along, there is a glimmer of hope.

“This will give a lot of farmers hope again, given the fact that in some areas for the past five years the harvest below average. But in the central Karoo, the little Karoo, Kannaland area and the north west of the province there are still severe drought conditions. We are really in need of support for those farmers at this stage,” explains Jannie Strydom from the Western Cape Agriculture.

South Africa is a net importer of wheat and every year fewer farmers plant the crop due to escalating input costs.